Organisations: Sale of knives etc by retailers to persons under 18

Criminal Justice Act 1988, s.141A

Triable only summarily
Maximum: unlimited fine
Offence range: £500 fine – £1,000,000 fine

Use this guideline when the offender is an organisation. If the offender is an individual please refer to the Individuals: Sale of knives etc by retailers to persons under 18 guideline.

This guideline applies to the unlawful sale in a single transaction of a knife etc* or a small quantity of knives etc (whether in-store or online) by retailers. It does not apply to cases involving large quantities of knives etc or to an organisation whose marketing of knives etc has deliberately or recklessly attracted children.

*‘etc’ refers to other articles to which section 141A applies

User guide for this offence

Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.


In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after the effective date of this guideline, regardless of the date of the offence.*

Section 59(1) of the Sentencing Code provides that:

“Every court –

  1. must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case, and
  2. must, in exercising any other function relating to the sentencing of offenders, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the exercise of the function,

unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.”

This guideline applies only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are in the Sentencing Council definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People.

*The maximum sentence that applies to an offence is the maximum that applied at the date of the offence.

Step 1 – Determining the offence category

The court should determine the offender’s culpability and the harm caused with reference only to the factors below.


A – High culpability

  • Offender failed to put in place appropriate measures to prevent underage sales –
    • For in-store sales measures should include some or all of the following:
      identifying restricted products, clear signage, age verification checks, Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 policy, staff training, a means of monitoring refusals, till prompts
    • For online sales measures should follow government guidance on the sale and delivery of knives including:
      identifying restricted products, age verification on delivery or collect in-store policy with age verification on collection
  • Offender failed to act on concerns raised by employees or others
  • Falsification of documents
  • Offender failed to make appropriate changes following advice and/or prior incident(s)

B – Medium culpability

  • Systems were in place but these were not sufficiently adhered to or implemented
  • Other cases where the offender’s culpability falls between the factors as described in A and C

C – Lesser culpability

  • Offender made significant efforts to prevent underage sales where not amounting to a defence


The harm caused by this offence relates to the risks, both to themselves and to others as well as the wider community, associated with children and young people being in possession of knives. There is just one level of harm, as the same level of harm is risked by any such sale to a person aged under 18.

Step 2 – Starting point and category range

Having determined the category at step one, the court should use the starting point to reach a sentence within the appropriate category range in the table below. The starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions.

Very large organisation

Where an offending organisation’s turnover or equivalent very greatly exceeds the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence.

Large organisation – Annual turnover or equivalent: £50 million and over


Starting point

Starting point

Starting point

Category range
£200,000 – £1,000,000

Category range
£100,000 – £400,000

Category range
£12,000 – £100,000

Medium organisation – Annual turnover or equivalent: between £10 million and £50 million


Starting point

Starting point

Starting point

Category range
£100,000 – £400,000

Category range
£50,000 – £200,000

Category range
£5,000 – £50,000

Small organisation – Annual turnover or equivalent: between £2 million and £10 million


Starting point

Starting point

Starting point

Category range
£25,000 – £100,000

Category range
£12,000 – £50,000

Category range
£3,000 – £12,000

Micro organisation – Annual turnover or equivalent: not more than £2 million


Starting point

Starting point

Starting point

Category range
£6,000 – £25,000

Category range
£3,000 – £12,000

Category range
£500 – £3,000

The court should then consider adjustment for any aggravating or mitigating factors. The following is a non-exhaustive list of additional factual elements providing the context of the offence and factors relating to the offender. Identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the sentence arrived at so far.

Factors increasing seriousness

Statutory aggravating factors:

  • Previous convictions,

    Effective from: 01 April 2023

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    Guidance on the use of previous convictions

    The following guidance should be considered when seeking to determine the degree to which previous convictions should aggravate sentence:

    1. Previous convictions are considered only after the starting point for the sentence has been reached.
    2. The primary significance of previous convictions (including convictions in other jurisdictions) is the extent to which they indicate trends in offending behaviour and possibly the offender’s response to earlier sentences.
    3. For sentencing purposes, previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
    4. Previous convictions of a type different from the current offence may be relevant where they are an indication of persistent offending or escalation and/or a failure to comply with previous court orders.
    5. Where information is available on the context of previous offending this may assist the court in assessing the relevance of that prior offending to the current offence.
    6. When considering the number and frequency of previous convictions it may be relevant to consider the size of the offending organisation. For example, a large organisation with multiple sites may be more likely to have previous convictions than a smaller organisation with only one site.
    7. The aggravating effect of relevant previous convictions reduces with the passage of time; older convictions are less relevant to the offender’s culpability for the current offence and less likely to be predictive of future offending.
    8. Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
    9. The court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. Where there has been a significant gap between previous and current convictions or a reduction in the frequency of offending this may indicate that the offender has made attempts to desist from offending in which case the aggravating effect of the previous offending will diminish.
    10. Where the current offence is significantly less serious than the previous conviction (suggesting a decline in the gravity of offending), the previous conviction may carry less weight.
    11. When considering the totality of previous offending a court should take a rounded view of the previous crimes and not simply aggregate the individual offences.
    having regard to a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction

Factors reducing seriousness or reflecting mitigation

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    • First time offenders usually represent a lower risk of reoffending. Reoffending rates for first offenders are significantly lower than rates for repeat offenders. In addition, first offenders are normally regarded as less blameworthy than offenders who have committed the same crime several times already. For these reasons first offenders receive a mitigated sentence.
    • Where there are previous offences but these are old and /or are for offending of a different nature, the sentence will normally be reduced to reflect that the new offence is not part of a pattern of offending and there is therefore a lower likelihood of reoffending.
    • When assessing whether a previous conviction is ‘recent’ the court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. 
    • Previous convictions are likely to be ‘relevant’ when they share characteristics with the current offence (examples of such characteristics include, but are not limited to: dishonesty, violence, abuse of position or trust, use or possession of weapons, disobedience of court orders).  In general the more serious the previous offending the longer it will retain relevance.
  • Evidence of steps taken voluntarily to prevent re-occurrence
  • High level of co-operation with the investigation
  • Good record of compliance with Trading Standards (particularly in relation to age restricted sales)
Obtaining financial information

Obtaining financial information
The offender is expected to provide comprehensive accounts for the last three years, to enable the court to make an accurate assessment of its financial status. In the absence of such disclosure, or where the court is not satisfied that it has been given sufficient reliable information, the court will be entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to the offender’s means from evidence it has heard and from all the circumstances of the case, which may include the inference that the offender can pay any fine.

Normally, only information relating to the organisation before the court will be relevant, unless exceptionally it is demonstrated to the court that the resources of a linked organisation are available and can properly be taken into account.

  1. For companies: annual accounts. Particular attention should be paid to turnover; profit before tax; directors’ remuneration, loan accounts and pension provision; and assets as disclosed by the balance sheet. Most companies are required to file audited accounts at Companies House. Failure to produce relevant recent accounts on request may properly lead to the conclusion that the company can pay any appropriate fine.
  2. For partnerships: annual accounts. Particular attention should be paid to turnover; profit before tax; partners’ drawings, loan accounts and pension provision; assets as above. Limited liability partnerships (LLPs) may be required to file audited accounts with Companies House. If adequate accounts are not produced on request, see paragraph 1.
  3. For local authorities, fire authorities and similar public bodies: the Annual Revenue Budget (‘ARB’) is the equivalent of turnover and the best indication of the size of the organisation. It is unlikely to be necessary to analyse specific expenditure or reserves (where relevant) unless inappropriate expenditure is suggested.
  4. For health trusts: the independent regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts is Monitor. It publishes quarterly reports and annual figures for the financial strength and stability of trusts from which the annual income can be seen, available via the Monitor website. Detailed analysis of expenditure or reserves is unlikely to be called for.
  5. For charities: it will be appropriate to inspect annual audited accounts. Detailed analysis of expenditure or reserves is unlikely to be called for unless there is a suggestion of unusual or unnecessary expenditure.

Step 3 – Adjustment of fine

Having arrived at a fine level, the court should consider whether there are any further factors which indicate an adjustment in the level of the fine including outside the category range. The court should ‘step back’ and consider the overall effect of its orders. The fine ought to achieve:

  • the removal of all gain (including through the avoidance of costs)
  • appropriate punishment, and
  • deterrence

The fine may be adjusted to ensure that these objectives are met in a fair way. The court should consider any further factors relevant to the setting of the level of the fine to ensure that the fine is proportionate, having regard to the size and financial position of the offending organisation and the seriousness of the offence.

The fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law. The court should ensure that the effect of the fine (particularly if it will result in closure of the business) is proportionate to the gravity of the offence.

In considering the ability of the offending organisation to pay any financial penalty the court can take into account the power to allow time for payment or to order that the amount be paid in instalments.

The court should consider whether the level of fine would otherwise cause unacceptable harm to third parties.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of additional factual elements for the court to consider.

The court should identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in a proportionate increase or reduction in the level of fine.

Factors to consider in adjusting the level of fine

  • The value, worth or available means of the offender
  • Impact of fine on offender’s ability to implement effective compliance programmes
  • Impact of fine on employment of staff, service users, customers and local economy (but not shareholders)

Step 4 – Consider any factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution

The court should take into account section 74 of the Sentencing Code (reduction in sentence for assistance to prosecution) and any other rule of law by virtue of which an offender may receive a discounted sentence in consequence of assistance given (or offered) to the prosecutor or investigator.

Step 5 – Reduction for guilty pleas

The court should take account of any potential reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with section 73 of the Sentencing Code and the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea guideline.

Step 6 – Totality principle

If sentencing an offender for more than one offence, or where the offender is already serving a sentence, consider whether the total sentence is just and proportionate to the overall offending behaviour in accordance with the Totality guideline.

Step 7 – Compensation and ancillary orders

In all cases, the court should consider whether to make ancillary orders.

Confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 may only be made by the Crown Court. The Crown Court must proceed with a view to making a confiscation order if it is asked to do so by the prosecutor or if the Crown Court believes it is appropriate for it to do so.

Where, following conviction in a magistrates’ court, the prosecutor applies for the offender to be committed to the Crown Court with a view to a confiscation order being considered, the magistrates’ court must commit the offender to the Crown Court to be sentenced there (section 70 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002). This applies to summary only and either-way offences.

Confiscation must be dealt with before, and taken into account when assessing, any other fine or financial order (except compensation). (See Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 sections 6 and 13)

 Step 8 – Reasons

Section 52 of the Sentencing Code imposes a duty to give reasons for, and explain the effect of, the sentence.