Knife crime is currently at the forefront of the political agenda, with a recent spike in the number of stabbings taking place, resulting in loss of life, serious injury, and no doubt the loss of liberty for those responsible in due course.
Attention is now fixed on using deterrent sentences to discourage individuals from carrying a knife.
With responsibility for setting sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, the Sentencing Council has today issued a new guideline for knife crime offences.
What type of offences does it cover?
The guideline applies to:
- Offences of possession of an offensive weapon in a public place
- Offences of possession of an article with a blade/ point in a public place
- Offences of possession of an offensive weapon on school premises
- Offences of possession of an article with a blade/ point on school premises
- Offences of unauthorised possession in prison of a knife or offensive weapon (adult guideline only)
- Offences of threatening with an offensive weapon in a public place
- Offences of threatening with an article with a blade/ point in a public place
- Offences of threatening with an article with a blade/ point on school premises
- Offences of threatening with an offensive weapon on school premises
Because the guideline relates to offences involving the ‘possession of’ or ‘threatening behaviour with’ a knife or bladed weapon, it does not cover situations where such a weapon has actually been used to cause injury. This type of incident would come under offences such as assault, murder, or manslaughter. Similarly, the use or possession of firearms also falls outside the remit of the new guideline, as these would be covered by alternative legislation.
Who does the guideline apply to?
The new guideline is applicable to both adults and offenders under the age of 18. In the case of the offenders under the age of 18, the guideline will work in conjunction with the Sentencing Children and Young People guideline and encourage courts to give significant consideration to the age/ maturity, background, and circumstances of each offender with a view to reaching the most appropriate sentence that will give the optimum chances of preventing reoffending, which is the primary function of the youth justice system.
What will be the impact of the new guidance?
The seriousness of this type of offending has been emphasised by leading Court of Appeal judgments 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 up to date, consolidated guidance. It ensures that offenders who are convicted of knife-related offences and those involving particularly dangerous weapons, as well as those who repeatedly offend, receive the highest sentences. In all likelihood, the introduction of the guideline may result in some increase in sentence levels, principally in relation to adults convicted of knife possession offences.
Are there any minimum sentences for these offences?
The law on mandatory sentences for offences involving bladed articles or offensive weapons states:
- Where an offender is convicted of threatening with a bladed article/ offensive weapon the court must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months' imprisonment for an adult or 4 months' Detention and Training Order for a youth (under 18), unless satisfied that there are circumstances relating to the offence or the offender that make it unjust to do so in all of the circumstances.
- Where an offender is convicted of a second (or further) bladed article/ offensive weapon offence the court must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months' imprisonment for an adult or 4 months' Detention and Training Order for a youth (under 18), unless satisfied that there are circumstances relating to the offence or the offender that make it unjust to do so in all of the circumstances.
As the guideline applies the highest sentences to those offenders who engage in threatening behaviour with knives or highly dangerous weapons, these offenders will always receive sentences in excess of six months. The combination of the guideline and the legislation is likely to result in an increase in sentences received by some offenders convicted of these types of offences.
In instances where the seriousness of the combined offences is such that it falls significantly below the custody threshold, or where a significant amount of time has elapsed between the offences, the court may consider it excessive to impose the statutory minimum sentence.
The court should consider the following factors to determine whether it would be unjust to impose the statutory minimum sentence:
- Strong personal mitigation
- Whether there is a significant prospect of rehabilitation
- Whether a custodial sentence will result in a significant impact on others
What about 'highly dangerous weapons'?
Supplementary guidance has been included as to what constitutes a highly dangerous weapon.
This has been defined 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”.
Based on the above statement, a highly dangerous weapon is, therefore, a weapon, including a corrosive substance (such as acid), whose dangerous nature substantially exceeds the risk posed by an offensive weapon. It is the responsibility of the court to determine whether the weapon is highly dangerous based on the facts and circumstances of the case.
How we can assist
Sentencing is a complex process, and all of our Criminal Defence Advocates are experts at navigating sentencing guidelines, ensuring that they are not applied in a systematic manner, instead ensuring the court focusses on all relevant considerations. If you require the best Criminal Defence, contact our team.