The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 brings in new Knife Crime Prevention Orders. Defence lawyers, Ravinder Khumra and Lesley-Anne Perry examine the new measures in the Act aimed at increasing the police response to violent crime.
There have been growing fears nationally – and particularly in London – over the significant rise in knife crime. We have also seen a disturbing increase in acid attacks. In 2018, we saw the highest number of homicides in London in nearly a decade, standing at 135. Unfortunately, 2019 is heading in the same direction, with knife crime already having claimed 30 lives in the capital this year. Clearly, urgent action to stem this rise is required.
Offensive Weapons Act 2019 – new powers for police in tackling knife crime
The government has produced the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 as a central part in tackling what Home Secretary Sajid Javid called the “scourge of serious crime”.
“These new laws will give police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons and ensure knives are less likely to make their way onto the streets in the first place.”
Among the changes, the Act tightens up the law on the sale and possession of corrosive substances. It also introduces Knife Crime Prevention Orders and makes it illegal to possess dangerous weapons in private – these include knuckledusters, zombie knives and death star knives. Additionally, it will become a criminal offence to dispatch a bladed product purchased online to a residential address, without first verifying that the purchaser is over 18 years of age.
Knife Crime Prevention Orders – Prevention is better than cure?
The Act introduces Knife Crime Protection Orders (KCPO), seen by many as knife ‘ASBOs’. They are one of the most stringent preventative orders ever to be be put in statute and are designed to act as a deterrent. In particular, this is aimed at young people who are vulnerable to becoming involved in knife crime.
The orders enable the courts to place restrictions on individuals in terms of what they can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go and even their social media use. Equally, they give police the power to seize knives and dangerous weapons. A breach of a KCPO carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment.
The KCPOs will be trialled initially in London, but have already caused some controversy in their targeting of young people. Indeed, they can be issued to a person as young as 12, even if they have never been caught carrying a knife or committed any crime. Critics argue that greater priority should be given to targeting those who coerce, control and threaten young people, instead of sanctioning the young people themselves. The concern is that more youths will be criminalised by these orders in the same way that the most vulnerable members of society were affected by ASBOs when they were first introduced.
According to official data, the number of crimes using acid or other noxious substances has more than doubled in London over the last three years. Unsurprisingly, the Act includes tougher measures in respect of the sale and possession of corrosive substances.
Firstly, it will become and offence to possess a corrosive substance in a public place; the offence carries a maximum prison sentence of 4 years.
Secondly, there will be a ban on the sale of corrosive products to under 18s; a retailer caught selling corrosive substances to under 18s could face up to 6 months in prison. Consequently, retailers will need to ensure their staff are well versed in seeking age verification.
Government consultation showed a 90% support for the changes. According to Sajid Javid, “anyone who carries acid to maim and disfigure others is a coward who deserves to face the full force of the law.”
Other key changes in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019
The Act includes a number of other measures to tackle serious violence, including:
- A ban, with immediate effect, ‘on the possession, manufacture and sale of rapid firing rifles and bump stocks, which increase a rifle’s rate of fire’.
- Updating the definition of flick knives to reflect changing weapon designs and banning the private possession of flick knives and gravity knives. This change will close existing ‘loopholes’ in the current legislation.
- Changing the legal definition for threatening someone with an offensive weapon to make prosecutions easier. This includes threatening in a public place, on educational premises and in a private place.
Criticism of the reforms
Critics of the measures being introduced in the Act view them as shallow and ill thought out. Youth charities have said they believe the government has been too hasty in attempting to appease public concern. They call for a coherent policy backed by funding to provide additional community support and address the social problems that have led to the increase in knife crime.
The Children’s Society and Just for Kids Law said, “in order to tackle the roots of youth violence, the government should focus on early intervention…the Home Office need to acknowledge the impact of the loss of youth services across the country.”
Speaking about the introduction of KCPOs, Liberal Democrat Lord Brian Paddick said, “the Coalition Government, with Theresa May as home secretary, abolished ASBOs and this Conservative Government, with Theresa May as prime minister, is bringing them back. But this time, without the resources that would give them any chance of succeeding.”
When does the Act come into force?
The Act has received Royal Assent and the majority of the provisions come into force with immediate effect. However, the government will consult on guidance for some of the new measures and engage with businesses and industry on how the legislation will affect them before it comes into force. The KCPOs will be trialled initially in London, so we will update on any progress once these pilots have taken place.
How we can assist?
If you have been caught or accused of carrying a knife or corrosive substance, get in touch with Ravinder Khumra or Lesley-Anne Perry, or call our West Drayton office on 01895 449288 or St Albans office on 01727 840900, or email us via our contact page.
We cover the full range of criminal matters and have the experience and expertise to get you the best result possible.