Minimum prison sentences for offenders who repeatedly carry knives will come into effect as of 17 July 2015.
The new ‘two-strikes’ sentence means that those adults convicted more than once of being in possession of a bladed article face a minimum 6 month prison sentence with the maximum remaining at 4 years. Young offenders, that is to say those aged 16 and 17, will face a minimum 4 month detention and training order.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to carry a bladed article in a public place. This applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocket knife unless, in relation to a folding pocketknife, the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches. It is a defence for an individual charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place. The definition of “public place” is uncertain, but can loosely be defined as anywhere the public have a legitimate right to be. The phrase “good reason or lawful authority” is intended to allow for “common sense” possession of knives, so that it is legal to carry a knife if there is a bona fide reason to do so. Subsection 5 of the Act gives some specific examples such as a knife for use at work (e.g. a chef’s knife), as part of a national costume or for religious reasons. However, even these specific statutory exceptions have not always assisted defendants at times.
In 2014, 1,300 people received a non-custodial sentence or caution for a repeat offence of knife possession. Under the new rules, they would all have faced a prison sentence. The judge must impose the new minimum sentence unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which relate to the offence, the previous offence(s), or the offender which would make it unjust in all the circumstances.
Criminal Justice Minister Mike Penning commented:
“Your local area should be a safe place to grow up, work, raise a family and retire.
“We are already making sure knife offenders are properly punished and keeping more off the streets for longer, making our communities safer.
“With this new measure we are sending out the strongest message to offenders – repeatedly take a knife onto our streets and expect to go to prison.”
The measure was included in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, which received Royal Assent in February 2015. The commencement order has already been laid meaning the measure will come into effect on Friday 17 July 2015. The measure was brought forward by former MP Nick de Bois as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act.
The new Section 28 of and Schedule 5 to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (CJC Act) create the minimum custodial sentence for those aged 16 and over convicted of a second or subsequent offence of possession of a knife or offensive weapon, contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 or sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. A previous conviction for threatening with a knife or offensive weapon, contrary to section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 or section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, counts as a ‘first strike’ in a similar manner to possession of a knife.
Statistics illustrate that knife offences have fallen by 40% between 2009 and 2014. At the same time the proportion of knife offenders receiving custodial sentences has increased from 22% to 29%, while average sentences for knife offences have increased from 166 days to 277 days.
The Government have indicated this new legislation is part of an overall series of measures taken since 2010 to respond to victims’ concerns and toughen punishments including banning the use of cautions under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 for offenders carrying knives. The latest published figures show that between January and March 2015, just 10% of adult offenders were given cautions for knife possession, its lowest recorded level.
Written by Ruth Peters