Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show a 21% increase in offences involving a knife in 2017, compared to the previous year.
This is supported by NHS figures showing a real upward change in hospital admissions for assault with a sharp object. The same figures show that the problem is most acute in London, with knife attacks per capita more than double that of the next comparable region (West Midlands).
Knife crime is very much on the political agenda, particularly in London, with a number of stabbings having taken place over the last few months in the capital city. Knife crime more often than not results in serious injury or death, accounting for 39% of all homicides in the country, the largest single cause of death. It also regularly results in the loss of liberty for those involved, often with devastating effects for families left behind. Due to the prevalence of knife crime among younger males, political attention is now focussed on using deterrent sentences to discourage carrying knives in the first place.
The Sentencing Council, which is responsible for setting sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, issued a new guideline last month for knife crime offences.
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. This would come under other offences against the person, such as assault or murder/manslaughter. Similarly, it does not include the use or possession of firearms, which is covered by different legislation.
Who does the new guideline apply to?
The new guideline applies to all offenders, both to adults and those under 18. In relation to youths, the guideline will work alongside the Sentencing Children and Young People guidance, which encourages Courts to look in far greater detail at the age/maturity, background and circumstances of each offender in order to reach the most appropriate sentence that will best achieve the aim of preventing re-offending.
What will be the effect of the new guidance?
Leading Court of Appeal judgments have emphasised the seriousness of this type of offending and have set out sentence levels that senior judges see as appropriate for dealing with offenders.
The proposed guideline codifies these changes to the law and Court judgments into an up-to-date guideline. It ensures that those offenders convicted of offences involving knives or particularly dangerous weapons, as well as those who repeatedly offend, will receive the highest sentences. The introduction of the guideline may, therefore, lead to some increases in sentence levels, predominantly in relation to adults convicted 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.
As the guideline gives the highest sentences to those offenders who threaten with knives or highly dangerous weapons, these offenders will normally receive sentences far greater than six months.
How might the minimum statutory sentence be avoided?
Where the seriousness of the combined offences is such that it falls far below the custody threshold, or where there has been a significant period of time between the offences, the Court may consider it unjust to impose the statutory minimum sentence.
The Court should consider the following factors to determine whether it would be unjust to impose the statutory minimum sentence:
- 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 been included as to what constitutes a highly dangerous weapon.
This 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 with a dangerous nature above and beyond the norm, for example, a corrosive substance (such as acid). The Court must determine whether the weapon is in fact highly dangerous based on the individual circumstances of the case.
How we can assist
Our highly ranked Criminal Defence team are experts in defending individuals accused of offences involving knives. We are proactive from the outset and will do everything possible to obtain the best possible result for our clients. If you have been charged or interviewed in relation to a knife offence then speak to one of our team today on 020 3814 2020 or by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org.