Proposed sentencing guidelines to cover the possession of weapons and threats to use them

The Sentencing Council has announced its proposals for new guidelines covering a number of offences involving knives and other weapons. The proposals cover the sentencing of offenders convicted of the possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon in public, and of using one to threaten someone. They do not cover offences where a knife or other weapon is actually used to harm someone, nor the use or possession of firearms: these are covered by other provisions.

The aim of the draft guidelines, which apply to adult and youth offenders, is to ensure consistency in sentencing and sentence levels that reflect Parliament’s concern about the social problem of offenders carrying knives.

This concern has led to several changes to the law in recent years, in particular the introduction of several new offences, including:

  • possession of bladed articles/ offensive weapons on school premises;
  • possession of bladed articles/ offensive weapons in prisons;
  • threatening with a bladed article/ offensive weapon in a public place; and
  • threatening with a bladed article/ offensive weapon on school premises.

Some of these new offences, such as those involving threats, also have mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders, which courts must apply unless it would be unjust to do so.

Concern about people carrying knives and other weapons has also been expressed in leading Court of Appeal judgments, which have set out sentence levels senior judges see as necessary to deal with offenders.

The proposed guidelines take these changes to the law and court judgments into account in consolidated, up to date guidance. They ensure 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 guidelines may therefore lead to some increases in sentence levels, most likely in relation to adults convicted of possession offences.

Due to the mandatory minimum sentences for those who use a weapon to threaten and the approach of giving the highest sentences to those offenders with knives and highly dangerous weapons, there may also be an increase in sentences received by some offenders convicted of these offences.

In relation to youths, the guideline will encourage 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 reoffending, which is the main function of the youth justice system.

The guidelines are now subject to a public consultation and the Council is seeking views on a number of issues including what the main factors influencing the seriousness of an offence should be, the approach to structuring the guidelines, the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed and the approach to the youth guideline.

The consultation will last for 13 weeks, closing on 6 January 2017. Following the consultation, a definitive guideline will be produced.

Sentencing Council member and District Judge Richard Williams said:

“If people carry knives, there is always the risk that they will be used, and with tragic consequences. As the Court of Appeal has stated, too many people are carrying knives and it only takes a moment of anger or drunkenness for one to be pulled out with fatal results or serious injury. Through these guidelines, we want to provide courts with comprehensive, up to date guidance to ensure that sentences reflect the seriousness of offending.

“This consultation gives the opportunity for anyone with expertise or an interest in this area of offending to give their views on our proposed guidelines.”