Criminal defence lawyers from Hodge Jones & Allen have appealed to the Home Office to rethink the introduction of knife crime prevention orders (KCPOs).
The Home Office announced last month that it will amend the Offensive Weapons Bill to introduce the orders which have been branded ‘knife ASBOs’, in reference to the failed anti-social behaviour orders.
The firm’s youth team, led by associate Caroline Liggins, wrote to the Home Office claiming that the orders are a ‘knee jerk reaction’ to reduce the record number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales.
The letter added that children as young as 12 could be caught up in the criminal justice system for breaching civil orders if the government introduces promised measures to tackle knife violence.
See the full letter below.
Hodge Jones and Allen Solicitors have for over 40 years been providing advice in the area of criminal law, specifically to those defending themselves against criminal allegations. As a consequence of that we have built up a wealth of experience in advising young people and children and work very closely with them in the criminal justice system.
On the 31st January, 2019 the government announced that they sought to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill with a view to introducing Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPO). These would appear to be a new form of anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) aimed more specifically at those who might carry knives.
Fatal stabbings in England and Wales are at their highest since records began. Figures show that large numbers of children and young people are being admitted to hospital with knife wounds and, as a consequence, the government are under pressure to find a way to tackle the growing violence. However, any response must be the correct response and we fear that the introduction of KCPOs are a knee jerk reaction. They will in fact not solve the problems that need addressing, but will simply end up criminalising more children and young adults.
The proposed KCPOs have involved no consultation from youth offending teams, social workers, experts who deal with knife crime or solicitors who will have to deal with this on a day to day basis if implemented. We, as solicitors, urge for this to be opposed and we set out in this letter our reasons for coming to this view.
What does amendment 73A of the Bill suggests – KCPOs in practice
A KCPO would be a civil injunction and in order for one to be granted a court would have to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that on at least two prior occasions ( within two years), the defendant was in possession of a bladed article without good reason, in a public place, school or further education premises. In short this means that for an order to be made they need only be satisfied that it was more likely than not the person has previously carried a knife twice.
However, any breach of the order would be a criminal offence and can be punished with up to two years imprisonment. The orders can be imposed on a child as young as 12.
Our concerns to the KCPO
- This new ASBO by another name, will predominately be aimed at children and young people. It could be imposed on those as young as 12 who are suspected of carrying knives. The proposed legislation gives the court free rein to impose restrictions. The government has suggested the restrictions could include bans on social media, on meeting friends, on participating in regular activities and also curfews. The potential punishment for breaching the order is imprisonment for up to two years. This means that a teenager, who is merely suspected of carrying a knife, could be banned from social media, and then imprisoned for using social media, without ever having been convicted of a crime
- These amendments have not been properly considered by the Home Office. Children and young people carry knives for multiple reasons. They are seduced by a gang lifestyle where violence is valued, or they are exploited by adults and coerced into carrying knives, or they are afraid of their peers and arm themselves fearing that they may be stabbed. KCPOs are trying to address an entrenched social problem with the threat of punishment and there is no evidence that would be effective given that knife crime is high moreover we have already comprehensive knife crime laws. The KCPOs will probably be ineffective for many who are subject to them because there is no support built into the proposals to help children and young people move away from those forces which cause them to carry weapons.
- There is no evidence that KCPOs are effective at tackling harmful behaviour, or can address the root causes of knife carrying.
- There is a real risk that vulnerable children, as young as 12 could end up in the criminal justice system, subject to punishment and the possibility of being sent to prison should they breach the order.
- Given the evidential standard is only on the balance of probabilities for a KCPO to be imposed, there are real dangers that a significant number of orders could be imposed. This will lead to children and youth people having a label which will impact their future. There is also a danger the orders will disproportionately impact BAME communities. They have the potential to in fact damage trust between communities and the police.
The government states it has listened to the concerns that prevention is what will help most. But there is no evidence that they have listened with this proposal. What is missing is a clear strategy to help young people walk away from knife violence, to be protected and have the support they need in the communities where they live. We need to look at alternatives to divert young people from knife crime rather than creating new provisions which replicate sanctions that are already on the statute books. Children and young people carry knives for complex reasons and are stuck in a cycle they are incapable of breaking on their own. Effective prevention means dealing with that complexity, investing in organisations and programmes rooted in the communities that are suffering the most.
Youth Team – Hodge Jones & Allen
Caroline Liggins – Head of the Youth Team
Bianca St Prix