Bladed articles and offensive absolutism
Cathál MacPartholán provides a brief review of new laws on offensive weapons in private places
Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 states: ‘Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence…’. A reasonable and uncomplicated assertation. But, some chief constables, politicians and legal academics argue the PCA 1953 to have been the main driving force to the upsurge in violent crime, as inadequate legislation. The critics’ exegesis suggested, to curb knife crime, a new production of criminal legislation was required and this would lance the problem. In essence, the PCA 1953 and Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 (ROWA 1959) required a new visceral intensity – and thus the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (CJA 1988) and Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 would atone for the rise in knife crime. This article shall review the expansion of sophistry in those assumptions – and how the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 wrestles through one’s own front door.
The layers of the law
In the 1980s, the old certainties didn’t seem certain any more – and the law and order paradigm became a rallying call with the police. The CJA 1988 distilled the regulated panic into a pure tincture to the circumstances for possessing offensive weapons. Hence the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 (and additions) began the regulation of your own home. This mixture of PCA 1953, ROWA 1959 and CJA 1988 was further expanded with the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA 2019) which received Royal Assent on 16 May 2019.
The proposition was the abjuration to tackle violent crime, and an outright ban on a wide range of knives, weapons and firearms which would inject a spirit of indomitability to the fight against knife crime. The comported consultation reports from the Home Office rallied to the message the new Act was primarily for the police, retailers and trading standards. In fact, the pusillanimous politicians and similar stakeholders who pose as the gatekeepers to fighting crime completed, in March 2016, their Modern Crime Prevention Strategy. This crime prevention strategy publication included the voluntary agreement with major retailers on sales of knives, banning zombie knives in August 2016, and support for national week of action against knives by police forces under the banner of Operation Sceptre.
The latest changes
However, as with most legislation relating to crime, the sole objective is to find purpose in a future moment. Thus, a new offence of possessing an offensive weapon in private (ie your own home) was introduced by the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (Commencement No 1) Regulations 2021 via specified provisions of the OWA 2019. The following provisions amended the OWA 2019 and came into force on 14 July 2021:
- s43(1) (amendments to the definition of ‘flick knife’);
- s44(2) to (4) (prohibitions on the possession of certain dangerous knives), so far as not already in force, and s44(1) so far as it applies to that provision.
Offensive weapons at home
This means some formerly legal articles, where one had previously disobeyed no laws to own in one’s own home are now illegal. As of 14 July 2021, it is now an offence to keep items such as knuckledusters, flick knives, throwing stars, zombie knives, telescopic truncheons and push daggers in your home. The effort to tackle violent street crime and the activists who eschew legal thinking for absolutism involving knife crime, have with a antediluvian discipline, determined the fight to be taken into private homes. Even the private home is today tinged with an air of transgression – for on the kitchen table rests the crumb-filled bread knife. In the background, the family continue to pay homage to their television set, where the police, politicians and government perform the flailing legal invasion to one’s own home.
Was the previous law already adequate for offensive weapons in public?
Offensive weapons are already restricted and regulated in s141(1) CJA 1988 and relevant amendments under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988. These are either way offences, meaning they can be dealt with in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The maximum sentence in the Magistrates’ Court was six months’ imprisonment and/ or a fine – but, with recent increases to the powers of the magistracy, it is possible we will see more such cases concluded there. In addition to the new law on possession of item(s) in a private place, there is, however, now an additional offence under s52 OWA 2019, of threatening with an offensive weapon etc in a private place, which carries a potential maximum sentence in the Crown Court of four years’ imprisonment.
We have witnessed the same statutory phenomena with the anti-knife narrative emanating from government and their stenographers in the media. The encroachment of the law into the home and the strategies such as Operation Sceptre is another example of this practice. Debates over the recent covid lockdown and its untold economic, mental, and outright effects on people’s thinking about their own homes, and arguably only pulled back the curtains to what was already an undulating system of legal control. However, if you can a glimpse in the mirror, you might do something about it – and the recent strikes from barristers to rail workers only serves to highlight how, despite the appetite for further legislation, society remains in a degree of disarray – and this includes the justice system.
Although society is complicated – and more is lost by indecision than wrong decision – you still can’t solve a problem on the level it was created. Therefore, incremental change of the law on the offences of offensive weapons and bladed articles is a practice being eaten away by a thousand tweaks and legal reforms. For the most part, people barely even notice it happening on their own home front. We have no way of verifying the expansion of laws into the home – yet OWA 2019 is founded on the concept of a need for protection, the more pugnacious streak of the police perhaps proving the cathartic regulator at your kitchen table.
Cathál MacPartholán FRSA is a lecturer in Criminal Law, Evidence, and International Criminal Law at Bangor University, and academic door tenant and mature pupil barrister with Holborn Chambers https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5645- 7999; bangor.ac.uk/law; holbornchambers.co.uk