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Possessing an offensive weapon in a public place is an offense under Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. In order to fulfil the requirements of the charge, the prosecution must prove that a person has with them (is in possession of) in a public place any offensive weapon.
If the prosecution has established the three key elements of the charge, the charge would succeed unless the defendant can show they have either of the following:
• lawful authority
• reasonable excuse
What constitutes an offensive weapon?
The article or object must fall within one of the three following categories to be considered an offensive weapon:
1. an offensive weapon per se (or by their very nature, as they are without an innocent quality)
• the following have been held to be offensive weapons ‘per se’: a machete, a sword, a flick knife, a truncheon, etc.
• however, a lock knife, ordinary razor or penknife have been held not to be offensive weapons ‘per se’ as they do have an innocent purpose
2. something adapted to cause injury (for example, a bottle that has been deliberately broken, a nail-headed club, an unscrewed pool cue, etc).
3. something that is not offensive per se, or adapted, but is intended to be used for the purpose of causing injury (for example, a work hammer, a large torch, an axe haft etc)
Must the prosecution prove that the possessor had an intention to cause injury?
If it is a weapon which falls into the ‘offensive per se’ category, or one that has been adapted to cause injury, then there is no requirement for the prosecution to prove that the possessor intended to cause injury. However, if the weapon falls into the last category then the prosecution does have to prove that the possessor intended to cause injury.
This makes sense, as those articles which are deemed as ‘not offensive per se’ can have an innocent purpose. A machete or broken bottle is an obvious weapon, whereas a hammer has an innocent quality unless used contrary to its intended purpose.
What is a public place?
Any highway and any premises or places to which the public, at the material time, have or are allowed to have access is considered a public place. This can also include a car, unless it happens to be parked on private property at the time.
What are the defences?
The defence of ‘lawful authority’ applies to people who carry an offensive weapon ‘as a matter of duty’ (soldiers and armed police officers). The defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ must satisfy a generally reasonable explanation for having the offensive weapon. The following excuses would be construed as ‘reasonable’ - a joiner transporting a hammer to and from the job site, a billhook which was being taken home after allowing a friend to borrow it to clear hedges, a lock knife that was used to open feed bags for horses or a police truncheon which was part of a fancy dress outfit.
Would ‘self defence’ be accepted as a reasonable excuse to carry an offensive weapon?
If carried as a ‘general precaution’, then no, it is not a reasonable excuse. However, if a person felt that they were about to be the victim of an imminent and violent attack and they had the weapon to protect themselves from this specific danger it might be considered a reasonable excuse.
What is the range of sentencing?
Four years imprisonment or a fine, or both, is the maximum sentence for conviction on indictment (at the Crown Court). On summary conviction (at the Magistrates Court) six months imprisonment or a fine of £5000, or both, would be the maximum.
Mitigating factors to reduce the sentence could include: co-operation with the police, pleading guilty at an early stage, where no threat had been made and the weapon was not particularly dangerous, etc.
How can AFG LAW help me if I am charged with a weapons offence?
AFG LAW have a team of experienced criminal law experts who can help you if you have been accused of committing an offensive weapons offence. Criminal law can sometimes be complex and difficult to fully understand - we can help you make sense of the charges against you, evaluate the evidence and advise how to proceed.
We can help you prepare your defence, represent you at trial and even help you with your appeal if it should be necessary. Should you be convicted, we can identify any appropriate mitigating factors or circumstances which may help to reduce your sentence or penalty.
Our criminal law solicitors can help you with your case and provide expert legal advice and representation throughout. If you’d like more information on weapons offences please email email@example.com or ring 01204 377 600 - we’ll explain how AFG LAW’s criminal law specialists can help.
Rahil is a specialist criminal practitioner appearing at magistrates courts on a daily basis to represent clients who face a full and wide range of offences.read more