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The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and The Criminal Justice Act 1988 both cover offences of having an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse and having an article with blade or sharply pointed in a public place without lawful authority or good reason.
Sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 apply to any article which has a blade or point except a folding pocketknife unless the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 7.62 centimetres (3 inches).
Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 provides that an offensive weapon is any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him or by some other person.
It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to prove that he or she had good reason or lawful authority for having the article in a public place. There are also specific defences in respect of:
use at work
religious reasons or
carrying the item as part of a national costume
Religious reasons may include the possession of an athame or a boline at a public ritual; in addition those dressed in full Druidic regalia may be considered to be wearing a national costume for the purpose of this legislation.
In addition, to the defences above, it is also a defence in respect of the offence under section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to prove that the person had the article for educational purposes.
An example of what might be considered lawful authority under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 is a police officer carrying a truncheon. What is ‘reasonable excuse’ under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 or ‘good reason’ under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 would depend on the circumstances. It would be for an individual to demonstrate that he or she has a good reason or reasonable excuse to possess a bladed article or offensive weapon in public. Whether the individual’s explanation amounts to a ‘good reason’ or a ‘reasonable excuse’ is a matter for the courts to determine.
It should be noted that even if an article is not considered to have a blade or point within the meaning of section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it could still be an offensive weapon under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 if the article is made or adapted for use for causing injury, or it is intended by the person carrying it for such use or by some other person for such use.
The maximum penalty for these offences is a prison sentence of four years, or a fine, or both.
Section 142 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, makes an offence of carrying a knife or offensive weapon in a public place, or school, where the weapon is used to threaten or endanger another. This attracts a minimum mandatory sentence of 6 months for over 18 year olds and a minimum 4 month detention and training order for those aged 16 and 17.