Knife crime has risen to the top of the political agenda in recent weeks, with a series of stabbings resulting in deaths and injuries, as well as, no doubt, the eventual loss of liberty for those guilty. The use of deterrent penalties to discourage knife ownership is currently the focus of attention.
The Sentencing Council, which is in charge of establishing sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, has announced a new knife crime guideline today.
What offences does it cover?
The guideline applies to offences of:
- Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place
- Possession of an article with a blade/ point in a public place
- Possession of an offensive weapon on school premises
- Possession of an article with a blade/ point on school premises
- Unauthorised possession in prison of a knife or offensive weapon (adult guideline only)
- Threatening with an offensive weapon in a public place
- Threatening with an article with a blade/ point in a public place
- Threatening with an article with a blade/ point on school premises
- Threatening with an offensive weapon on school premises
The guideline does not cover situations where a knife or other weapon is actually used to harm someone. Other offences, such as assault or murder/manslaughter, would apply. It also excludes the use and possession of firearms, which is governed by separate regulations.
Does the guideline apply to all offenders?
Adults and children under the age of 18 are equally affected by the new guidelines. In terms of the latter, the guideline will work in tandem with the Sentencing Children and Young People guideline to encourage courts to consider each offender’s age/ maturity, background, and circumstances in order to determine the most appropriate sentence that will best achieve the goal of preventing reoffending, which is the main function of the juvenile justice system.
What will be the effect of the new guidance?
Leading Court of Appeal decisions have highlighted the gravity of this type of crime and established sentence levels that senior judges believe are suitable for dealing with perpetrators.
In unified, up-to-date recommendations, the proposed guideline takes these developments in the law and court rulings into consideration. It assures that people convicted of crimes involving knives or other highly dangerous weapons, as well as repeat offenders, face the harshest punishments. As a result of the guideline’s implementation, several sentence levels may be increased, particularly for individuals guilty of possession offences.
Are there any minimum sentences for these offences?
The law on mandatory sentences for offences involving bladed articles or offensive weapons states:
- Where an offender is convicted of a second (or further) bladed article/ offensive weapon offence the court must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment for an adult or 4 months’ Detention and Training Order for a youth (under 18), unless satisfied that there are circumstances relating to the offence or the offender that make it unjust to do so in all of the circumstances.
- Where an offender is convicted of threatening with a bladed article/ offensive weapon the court must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment for an adult or 4 months’ Detention and Training Order for a youth (under 18), unless satisfied that there are circumstances relating to the offence or the offender that make it unjust to do so in all of the circumstances.
Because the guideline imposes the harshest terms for individuals who threaten with knives or other highly hazardous weapons, these offenders will always be sentenced to more than six months in prison. As a result of the legislation and the guideline, those criminals guilty of these offences may face longer terms.
The court may find it unreasonable to impose the statutory minimum term if the combined offences are so minor that they do not meet the custody level, or if there has been a substantial interval of time between the offences.
To assess whether imposing the statutory minimum sentence would be unjust, the court should consider the following factors:
- Strong personal mitigation
- Whether there is a strong prospect of rehabilitation
- Whether custody will result in significant impact on others
What about ‘highly dangerous weapons’?
Additional guidance has also been included as to what constitutes a highly dangerous weapon.
This guidance has been set out as follows:
“An offensive weapon is defined in legislation as ‘any article made or adapted for use for causing injury or is intended by the person having it with him for such use”.
A highly dangerous weapon is, therefore, a weapon, including a corrosive substance (such as acid), whose dangerous nature must be substantially above and beyond this. The court must determine whether the weapon is highly dangerous on the facts and circumstances of the case.
How can we help?
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