15 February 2023
Underage sale of knives: sentencing guidelines published
New sentencing guidelines for sentencing retailers including large organisations and individual shop owners convicted of selling knives to children in England and Wales were published today by the Sentencing Council following consultation.
The two guidelines, which will come into effect on 1 April 2023, apply to organisations and individuals who fail to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent the sale of knives to under 18s either in-store or online.
For the first time, magistrates’ courts will have specific guidelines for sentencing this offence which is prosecuted by Trading Standards. The guidelines will ensure that courts take a consistent approach to sentencing this offence.
Organisations face a range of fines from £500 to £1 million, with fines linked to turnover to make penalties proportionate to the size of organisation (organisations cannot be sentenced to custody or community orders). Individuals face a range of non-custodial sentences, from a discharge to a high-level community order or fine.
The Council does not expect sentences to change overall for most offenders but, for large organisations, sentences may be higher under the new guidelines.
Following consultation, the Council made some changes to the guidelines including changes to the factors that can make the offence more serious to reflect the different safeguarding measures that may be appropriate in different retailing situations.
The Council has also revised its guidance on the relevance of previous convictions to include organisations. The guidance previously related only to individual offenders.
Sentencing Council magistrate member, Jo King JP, said:
“Knives in the hands of young people can lead to very serious consequences. The responses we received to the consultation demonstrate that the vast majority of retailers take this issue very seriously and put safeguards in place to prevent the sale of knives to children.
“Prosecutions result when retailers fail to put safeguards in place or to implement them properly. The new guidelines set out clearly how magistrates’ courts should approach such cases when sentencing retailers for selling knives to children.”
There are currently no sentencing guidelines for this offence, which is prosecuted by Trading Standards and is dealt with in magistrates’ courts.
Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“Knife crime causes devastation in local communities and blights many young lives. Consistent sentencing rules are important when action is taken against those who sell knives to children. Trading Standards strongly support this move by the Sentencing Council to seek to achieve this important outcome.”
Notes to editors
- The offence of selling knives etc to persons under the age of 18 is a summary only offence contrary to s.141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; it carries a maximum of six months’ imprisonment (or, in the case of an organisation, an unlimited fine) and can only be dealt with in magistrates’ courts.
- These guidelines apply to the unlawful sale in a single transaction of a knife or a small quantity of knives (whether in-store or online) by retailers or those employed by retailers. They do not apply to cases involving large quantities of knives or those whose marketing of knives has deliberately or recklessly attracted children.
- The offence of selling knives to children is prosecuted by the Trading Standards departments of local authorities. It is used to prosecute retailers who fail to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent children purchasing knives.
- In practice prosecutions result from test purchases where a child, under the supervision of Trading Standards officers, attempts to purchase an age restricted item. If the retailer allows the sale to go ahead, they are liable to be prosecuted.
- The majority of offences are punished by way of a fine.
- Fine amounts received by individuals between 2017 and 2021 ranged from £34 to £6,000 (the median was £383). All of these fine amounts are after any reduction for a guilty plea.
- Between 2017 and 2021, of around 70 adult offenders sentenced, 76 per cent were fined, 14 per cent received an absolute or conditional discharge, and 6 per cent were made subject to a community order. A further 3 per cent were ‘otherwise dealt with’ and the remaining 2 per cent received a suspended sentence order.
- Of around 90 organisations sentenced between 2017 and 2021, 99 per cent were fined and 1 per cent were sentenced to a discharge (an organisation cannot be sentenced to custody or to a community order).
- Between 2017 and 2021, the range of fine amounts received by organisations was £269 to £200,000 (the median was £2,600). All of these fine amounts are after any reduction for a guilty plea.
- Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
- Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
- The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
- For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org