Keeping knives off the streets – British justice style

Knife crimeWestEnd61/Rex Features
By David Allan

Why don’t the courts have a specific power to order forfeiture of a knife from someone convicted of carrying it in public without good reason?

Secondly, can anyone tell me why it is, that if someone is convicted of carrying an offensive weapon (eg a knuckle-duster, baseball bat with a nail through it, that kind of thing) without reasonable excuse in public the court may order forfeiture of it, however, should that same person instead be convicted of threatening someone with a similar offensive weapon, there is no such power to order forfeiture?

And, just so you know, should someone be convicted of threatening someone with a knife, or having a knife on school premises, there is no power to order forfeiture of that knife either.

Does it sound like I’m making this up? I promise you (lawyer’s promise) that I’m not. This is just the result of the hodgepodge of statutory provisions that have been flung at the wall over the years in response to concerns over knife crime. Let’s look at them in a bit more detail so I can show you what I’m talking about:

First of all, let me take you back to ’53. That year Parliament passed the Prevention of Crime Act, s 1 which made it an offence to carry an offensive weapon in a public place. Sub-s 2 provided for forfeiture of such an item upon conviction.

Fast-forward to 2012, The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act inserted a new section into the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, s 1(A). This makes it a new offence to threaten someone with an offensive weapon in public. However, there is no provision in the new section, s 1(A), empowering a court to order forfeiture of that offensive weapon.

The bottom line apparently being: if you are convicted of possessing a knuckle-duster in public, Parliament intended that the court should be able to order forfeiture of it. However, if you threaten someone with a knuckle-duster, Parliament intended that the police should hand your weapon back to you at the conclusion of any sentence served.

And there is a similar problem with the legislation relating to knives, or “bladed articles” as we lawyers prefer to call them. In 1988 Parliament passed the Criminal Justice Act, s 139 which made it an offence to possess certain knives in public without good reason. However, despite there being a provision under the Prevention of Crime Act, passed 35 years previously, for forfeiture of offensive weapons in these circumstances – no equivalent provision was included in the Criminal Justice Act.

It gets even more inexplicable. In 2012, mirroring the new provisions relating to offensive weapons, Parliament introduced new offences of having a bladed article on school premises or threatening someone with a bladed article, the new s 139AA and s 139A of the 1988 Act respectively. However, neither of those sections, and nowhere else in the 1988 Act, is there provision for forfeiture of the knife concerned.

Now, you might say, “Surely it is part of the court’s inherent jurisdiction to order forfeiture of knives and offensive weapons in these circumstances?” That would sound sensible but the idea that courts have such inherent powers is undermined by the fact that Parliament has gone to the trouble of providing for specific powers of forfeiture in a number of other instances: drugs, firearms, even knives which have been “marketed”, just, it appears, not knives being carried around in public, or offensive weapons used to threaten people or carried onto school premises.

Why aren’t there queues of knife-wielders around the block of police stations demanding their knives back? Maybe because most defendants don’t have the brass-neck required. Also, probably, because the courts have a general power to order “deprivation” of items used in crime under s 143 of the Sentencing Act.

So, I come back to my point; the law is a hodgepodge with different powers of forfeiture depending on whether someone is convicted of possession of a knife or an offensive weapon, whether it is carried in public, on school premises, used to threaten someone or not. There are specific powers to order forfeiture of firearms and drugs, but not, generally, knives and offensive weapons. Instead, the courts must rely on an overarching statutory power that goes by a different name but has a similar effect. It’s a muddle.

The bottom-line for concerned members of the public is that the powers given to the courts under a number of sections, old and new, of various Acts of Parliament, are sufficient to keep knives off the streets, but spare a thought for the criminal lawyers who have to somehow make sense of it all.


  1. says

    (A) In any case in which the Government files in the appropriate United States district court a complaint for forfeiture of property, any person claiming an interest in the seized property may file a claim asserting such person’s interest in the property in the manner set forth in the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims, except that such claim may be filed not later than 30 days after the date of service of the Government’s complaint or, as applicable, not later than 30 days after the date of final publication of notice of the filing of the complaint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *