This briefing provides information on the two main categories of offence relating to knives and offensive weapons in England and Wales: offences relating to possession and offences relating to sale and supply. It also describes police guidance on cautioning and charging and the Government's policy on knife crime.Jump to full report >>
It is an offence to possess an offensive weapon or bladed or sharply pointed article in a public place or on school premises. There is also an aggravated form of these possession offences, committed when the person in possession of the weapon uses it to threaten another in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that person. Offenders aged 16 or over convicted of these possession offences will (in certain circumstances) receive a minimum custodial sentence.
It is an offence to manufacture or sell dangerous weapons (flick knives and gravity knives) or offensive weapons (such as knuckledusters, swordsticks and zombie knives).
Legislation prohibits the sale of a knife, knife blade, razor blade, axe, or other article with a blade or sharp point made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, to persons under the age of 18. The prohibition does not apply to certain folding pocket knives and enclosed razor blades. The law also prohibits the marketing of knives in a way which suggests that they are suitable for combat, or which would otherwise be likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of a knife as a weapon.
Police Guidelines on the Investigation, Cautioning and Charging of Knife Crime Offences set out an expectation that those who illegally carry and use knives will be prosecuted.
There are also statutory restrictions on the use of cautions for serious offences. For certain specified offences, including the possession offences relating to offensive weapons and bladed articles, a caution must not be given unless an officer of at least the rank of Inspector determines that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offender or the offence.
The Government’s policy on tackling knife crime is based on "four key strands": working with the police; working on the legislative framework; working with retailers on responsible sales; and looking at early intervention and prevention.
In April 2018 the Home Office published the Serious Violence Strategy, which it has described as looking at “the root causes of the problem and how to support young people to lead productive lives away from violence” as well as at law enforcement. The Home Secretary has also announced plans for a new statutory duty for all agencies – including health, education and social care – to work together to tackle serious violence.
The Government has also introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill, which sets out new restrictions on the sale and possession of knives and bladed articles. The Bill has completed its Commons stages and is currently in the Lords.
Commons Briefing papers SN00330
Author: Sally Lipscombe