Old Bailey Solicitors

Possession of Offensive Weapons: Legal Landscape & Defences

The law concerning possession of offensive weapons is vast and encompasses multiple pieces of legislation. This blog looks to assess the legislative landscape, key offences and also defences to offences relating to possession of offensive weapons. The blog will touch upon the definitions of what is an ‘offensive weapon’, look specifically at bladed articles and provide advice on what to do if you are under investigation or charged with possession of an offensive weapon.

Whilst there are certain weapons which are not allowed in a private place (i.e. a private household or dwelling), an offence is usually committed where a person is in possession of an offensive weapon in a public place. This blog will focus on offences committed in public places.

What do the prosecution need to prove?

The elements of the offence are as follows. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove, and make the Magistrates or Jury sure that:

  1. You knowingly had with you;
  2. In a public place;
  3. An offensive weapon and/or a bladed article
  4. Without lawful authority or reasonable excuse

The definition of a ‘Public Place’

The term public place is taken to mean any place which the public has access to or is permitted access to. It matters not whether payment is required to access this place (for example, access to a place such as a ticketed sporting event, which you would be precluded from entering without a ticket, would still be considered a public place.)

A further example is a communal corridor in a block of flats, which could be considered as a public place.

This means that the definition of a public place is rather broad and is rarely a live issue at trial.

Offensive Weapons – What Are They?

Offensive Weapons are defined in Section 1(4) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. This Act defines an offensive weapon as ‘any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person or intended by the person having it with them for such use by them or by some person’. This somewhat wordy definition does not make it entirely clear what does or does not classify as an offensive weapon.  However, the case of R v Simpson(C) considered this definition and defined three categories of offensive weapon. This interpretation is now considered and followed:

  1. Weapons Offensive per se:

Weapons that are offensive per se are weapons that are specifically made to cause injury to a person. The Crown Prosecution Service gives examples of truncheons, a rice flail and a butterfly knife as weapons that are all offensive per se.

  1. Weapons Adapted for Use:

A weapon adapted for use is not one which in its ordinary form would be considered an offensive weapon. For example, a beer bottle would not be considered as being an offensive weapon – but when smashed in order to create jagged edges which might be used to cut a person, this would have been adapted for this use.

  1. Intended by the person having it with them for use for causing injury to a person:

Weapons encapsulated by this weapon type might be considered ordinary in their everyday use, but do not need adapting in order to be considered offensive. The key here is the intention behind the person who has the weapon on them as to whether it is considered an offensive weapon. Take, for example, a person who attends their local cricket club to play cricket. They have with them a cricket bat and have it with them only to play cricket. Then consider a second person, this person has on them a cricket bat, not to play cricket but to attack another with it and cause injury. The second person is in possession of an offensive weapon, the first is not.

Bladed Articles – What are they?

Being in possession of a bladed article is generally considered a more severe offence than other offensive weapons.  Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes a standalone offence of possessing a bladed article in a public place.

Section 139(3) states that any article which has a ‘blade or is sharply pointed, except a folding pocketknife’, shall be considered illegal. The Act goes on to state that a folding pocketknife becomes illegal if the cutting edge exceeds 3 inches in length.

Therefore, it is legal to possess a pocketknife in a public place, so long as the blade does not exceed the limit. This acts as a deterrent for any person using this as a ‘loophole’ to allow them to carry a blade. Of course, using a pocketknife to injure or threaten a person are separate offences, and the mere fact that it is a pocketknife used to injure/threaten will not provide a defence in itself.

The Act defines some lawful reasons why a person may be required to have a bladed article on their person. Section 139(5) lists the following reasons:

  1. For use at work
  2. For religious reasons
  3. As part of any national costume

As such, a person who carries a Stanley knife for work purposes as a builder, or a Sikh who carries a kirpan (which is a dagger-type blade, worn for religious reasons), would be acting within the law. Again, as above, possession of these alone is not an offence but associated offences can arise if the context of the possession exceeds that purpose.

Without Lawful Authority or Reasonable Excuse

Lawful authority for carrying an offensive weapon is exemplified by instances where an individual possesses an offensive weapon as part of their official duties. An example of such would be a police officer carrying an extendable baton, which they are entitled to use in the exercise of their duties.

Broader, a reasonable excuse might be for example, a person carrying a corrosive substance which could be used in, for example, an acid attack, in circumstances where they have purchased the substance are on their way home to use it to unblock their drains. Another example might be a person carrying a machete which they were taking from their home to their land for use in felling trees.

The law is also very prescriptive about weapons carried for the purposes of self-defence. A rise in knife crime/stabbings has been directly attributable to persons carrying knives for the purposes of self-defence. This is not a reasonable excuse for carrying a weapon/knife in public, and a person who is carrying a weapon to pre-empt danger or as a precaution would be guilty of possession of a bladed article.

However, the law may in certain circumstances allow for self-defence or a reasonable excuse to be used where a person took possession of a weapon to act against immediate danger and carried the weapon to defend himself against a specific danger.  This line of defence is very restrictively applied however.

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Matt Bishop


Trainee Solicitor

Bespoke advice, when you need it the most

We have offices in Brighton, London and Horley and advise clients on all aspects of criminal defence allegations, including sexual offences, violent offences and drug offences.

Case Study:

In 2022, Old Bailey Solicitors represented a client charged with possession of an offensive weapon and affray. The client was stood outside of his garage, when a male came towards him with a knife held behind his back. The man stood across the road from our client, and an argument ensued. Our client did not know this man.

The police were called by a passer-by. Between their arrival and the 999 call, our client had picked up a small wood cutting axe from his garage to defend himself, if the male came across the road. Given he stood on the pavement outside of his garage, he was in a public place.

Police arrived and when the other gentleman heard sirens, he ran off. Our client remained outside the garage with the axe and was subsequently arrested and charged with possessing an offensive weapon and affray.

At court, Old Bailey Solicitors successfully argued that our client had a reasonable excuse for possessing the axe. The jury unanimously acquitted the client of both offences.

Our client had acted to take possession of the offensive weapon to act in response to an immediate threat. He had not been carrying the weapon as a precaution. This was a fantastic result for our client, who was facing a significant custodial sentence on conviction.

The courts are increasingly treating cases of possessing an offensive weapon more and more seriously. The consequences of knife crime are all too often devastating.  Even if you believe you are acting to defend yourself, the legal consequences of carrying and/or using a knife, or other offensive weapon are vast – it could lead to life-changing consequences for yourself or others, including serious injury and death. Most police stations have knife-amnesty bins, for consequence-free disposal of knives and offensive weapons.

If you would like support with knife or offensive weapon crime, we have included links below to charities who can offer support:

Lives Not Knives

The Ben Kinsella Trust | #StopKnifeCrime

If you are facing prosecution or an allegation of knife crime, in any capacity – whether it is possession, or use of an offensive weapon, it is vitally important that you obtain competent and experienced legal representation as early as possible.

Old Bailey Solicitors have seen a number of recent successes in defending possession of offensive weapon offences. The legislation surrounding these offences can be intricate and so it is vital that you have legal representatives with strong legal knowledge, who will listen to your circumstances, are able to advise you comprehensively about the strengths of your case and will fight for the best outcome on your behalf.

Contact Old Bailey Solicitors, for a confidential and non-judgmental conversation about your case and individual circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Bishop headshot

Matt Bishop


Trainee Solicitor

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