New sentencing guideline introduced for the possession of weapons and threats to use them

The Sentencing Council has published a new guideline for the sentencing of offenders convicted of the possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon, such as acid, in public, and of using one to threaten someone.

The new guideline will help ensure consistency in sentencing and that sentence levels 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, such as that of threatening with a bladed article/offensive weapon in a public place.

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

Leading Court of Appeal judgments have also emphasised the seriousness of this this type of offending and have set out sentence levels that senior judges see as appropriate for dealing with offenders.

The proposed guideline takes these changes to the law and court judgments into account in consolidated, up to date guidance. It ensures 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 guideline may therefore lead to some increases in sentence levels, predominantly in relation to adults convicted of possession offences.

There is a mandatory minimum sentence of six months custody set by law for offenders who use any type of weapon to threaten. As the guideline gives the highest sentences to those offenders who threaten with knives or highly dangerous weapons, these offenders will always receive sentences greater than six months. The combination of the legislation and the guideline may therefore mean that there is an increase in sentences received by some offenders convicted of these offences.

The new guideline applies both to adults and those under 18. In relation to the latter, the guideline will work alongside the Sentencing Children and Young People guideline and 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 guideline was subject to a public consultation and a number of changes were made as a result of feedback received. For example, as a result of requests, additional guidance has been included as to what constitutes a highly dangerous weapon. This has been set out as follows: “An offensive weapon is defined in legislation as ‘any article made or adapted for use for causing injury, or is intended by the person having it with him for such use’. A highly dangerous weapon is, therefore, a weapon, including a corrosive substance (such as acid), whose dangerous nature must be substantially above and beyond this. The court must determine whether the weapon is highly dangerous on the facts and circumstances of the case.”

Some consultees also asked for more guidance about when it would be unjust to impose a statutory minimum sentence. The guideline now includes a section covering this.

There have also been some structural changes to the categorisation of culpability and harm. In order to show a clearer gradation of seriousness, an additional level of culpability has been added and the levels of harm set out have been simplified.

Sentencing Council member Rosina Cottage said:

“Too many people in our society are carrying knives. If someone has a knife on them, it only takes a moment of anger or drunkenness for it to be taken out and for others to be injured or killed. These new guidelines give courts comprehensive guidance to ensure that sentences reflect the seriousness of offending.”

Following publication today, the guidelines will come into force in courts on 1 June 2018.