The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 introduced a range of provisions, including Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) and legislative amendments designed to strengthen the response to knife crime.
Section 46 of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 came into force on 14 July 2021. This section made amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which included banning the possession of offensive weapons in a private place.
There are further provisions within the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 which are due to come into force later this year.
What was the law before?
Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 creates the offence of possession of an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. A similar offence exists in relation to possession of offensive weapons on school premises, further education premises and prisons.
Section 1(4) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 defines an offensive weapon as any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him or by some other person. This includes then three different categories:
- a) an article made for use for causing injury to the person, commonly known as a weapon that is offensive per se (this will include flick-knives or knuckledusters)
- b) an article adapted for use for causing injury to the person (e.g., a bottle that is broken to inflict injury);
- c) an article which the person carrying it intends to use for the purpose of causing injury to the person.
There are separate offences for firearms largely regulated by the Firearms Act 1968.
A public place is defined as anywhere that the public have access to or are permitted to have access to. This could in some circumstances include communal areas of residential buildings if the public have access or are permitted to have access to them. This would come down to the facts of the case.
What has changed?
As of 14 July 2021, it is a criminal offence to be in possession of an offensive weapon in a private place. A private place is defined as a place other than a public place, school premises, further education premises, or a prison.
The immediate question for many will be in relation to kitchen knives and other similar items which are familiar features of most households. The schedule to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons Order) sets out a list of offensive weapons to which the new offence applies:
- (a) a knuckleduster, and any weapon incorporating a knuckleduster;
- (b) a swordstick;
- (c) a “handclaw”;
- (d) a “belt buckle knife”;
- (e) a “push dagger”;
- (f) a “hollow kubotan”;
- (g) a footclaw”;
- (h) a “shuriken”, “shaken” or “death star”, being a hard non-flexible plate having three or more sharp radiating points and designed to be thrown;
- (i) a “balisong” or “butterfly knife;
- (j) a “telescopic truncheon”;
- (k) a “blowpipe” or “blow gun”;
- (l) a “kusari gama”, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a sickle;
- (m) a “kyoketsu shoge”, being length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a hooked knife;
- (n) a “manrikigusari” or “kusari”, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at each end to a hard weight or hand grip;
- (o) a disguised knife, that is any knife which has a concealed blade or concealed sharp point and is designed to appear to be an everyday object;
- (p) a stealth knife, that is a knife or spike, which has a blade, or sharp point, made from a material that is not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal and which is not designed for domestic use or for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food or as a toy;
- (q) a baton;
- (r) a sword with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length; and for the purposes of this sub-paragraph, the length of the blade shall be the straight line distance from the top of the handle to the tip of the blade;
- (s) the weapon sometimes known as a “zombie knife”, “zombie killer knife” or “zombie slayer knife”, being a blade with:
- (i) a cutting edge;
- (ii) a serrated edge; and
- (iii) images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence.
- (t) the weapon sometimes known as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” being a weapon with:
- (i) a handle,
- (ii) a blade with two or more cutting edges, each of which forms a helix, and(iii) a sharp point at the end of the blade.
Zombie killer knives have been a relatively recent phenomena and feature in the list above. No doubt new weapons of concern will be added to the list over time.
The offence does not apply to antique weapons. The act defines these as weapons made at least 100 years before the date of the alleged offence. There is also an exception for swords made before 1954 and swords made at any time according to traditional methods of making swords by hand. This provision caters for those who collect traditional swords.
There remain exceptions as under the existing offence for Crown and visiting forces, religious ceremonies, religious dress, museums and galleries and theatrical performances, production of films and production of television programmes.
So does that mean that there is a different definition of offensive weapon depending on if it is in private or in public?
Under section 141 Criminal Justice Act 1988, it was already an offence to manufacture, sell or hire the weapons listed in the schedule above.
So what then is the interaction between the offence under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime 1953. In Scotland, the High Court of Justiciary has held that where it was clearly stated in a statutory instrument that an article was to be regarded as an offensive weapon, it could be regarded as an offensive weapon per se for the purposes of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. With the new offence of possession of an offensive weapon in a private place, this seem the obvious conclusion. It would make no sense to have a weapon that it was an offence to possess in private but not in public. It seem though that there is still scope for weapons that are not listed in the schedule to be considered an offensive weapon per se where they are possessed in public; so weapons which are clearly made to cause injury but not included in the schedule could still give rise to an offence if possessed in public.
Likewise, the new offence does not apply to the other categories under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime 1953.
What is clear is that this is a changing landscape with a complicated set of scenarios that requires expert advice and representation. If you need assistance in this area please contact one of the experts in our general crime team on 0808 252 5231 or request a call back online.