Violent knife crime is making the headlines in the United Kingdom. It seems in recent times that not a day passes without there being some reference in the media to someone being attacked and injured with a knife, and ever more frequently cases which result in death. Knife crime in London and the inner cities is very on the rise. Some reports suggest that knife crime in London alone has increased by 21.2 per cent.
On February 02, 2020, a man was shot dead by police in London, Streatham after he attacked three people on Streatham High Road with a knife. Three people were injured, with one person in a life-threatening condition. The Streatham attacker had been released from jail after serving time for terror offences. He was under active police surveillance at the time of the attack, which police believe to be an Islamist-related terrorist incident.
In January 2019, eight individuals - all of whom were either men or teenage boys - died as a result of being stabbed. The killings occurred in Finsbury Park, Barnes, Croydon, Ilford and Hackney. For those of us who follow the national media, the recent headlines may have become too familiar 'Man in 20's fatally stabbed'.
The official number of knife crimes continues to rise in the United Kingdom and that offenders are more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence and a longer one.
It would be helpful if steps are taken to make it more difficult to buy knives over the counter. Parents should check their children are not carrying them in the first place, and warn them of the consequences. However, to combat knife crime, the judges of the country must get tough on those who face court for carrying blades. Harsh sentences should be given for people carrying knives.
What knives are illegal to possess? The following categories of knives are illegal to possess i.e. Flick knives, Knives with the blade hidden from view, Butterfly knives & Samurai swords (a few exceptions apply).
THE LAW: SENTENCE GUIDELINES: With a view to combating knife crime from the street of the United Kingdom, the Sentencing Council introduced a new guideline on June 01 2018. It sought to both consolidate the law on the issues of knife-crime and 'ensure that those offenders convicted of offences involving knifes or particularly dangerous weapons as well as those who repeatedly offend will receive the highest sentences'.
The new guideline applies to offences of: (1) Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place, (2) Possession of an article with a blade/ point in a public place, (3) Possession of an offensive weapon on school premises, (4) Possession of an article with a blade/point on school premises, (5) Unauthorised possession in prison of a knife or offensive weapon (adult guideline only), (6) Threatening with an offensive weapon in a public place, (7) Threatening with an article with a blade/point in a public place, (8) Threatening with an article with a blade/point on school premises, (9) Threatening with an offensive weapon on school premises and (10) The guideline applies to adults over the age of 18 and those under the age of 18.
SENTENCING FOR KNIFE OFFENCES: There is little doubt that offenders now more than ever are at real risk of receiving a custodial sentence if convicted of an offence involving the use of a knife or the threat of the use of a knife. A Ministry of Justice report stated that custodial sentences are now at the highest level they have been, whilst the proportion of offences resulting in a caution is at its lowest level. It is therefore essential that offenders facing court proceedings instruct a lawyer immediately.
THE SENTENCING RULES: In England and Wales, there are minimum custodial sentences for anyone aged 16 or over caught with a knife in the following circumstances: (1) Threatening: They are convicted of using the knife to threaten another person where that person is at immediate risk of serious physical harm and (2) Repeat offenders: They are convicted of carrying a knife in a public place or on school premises and they have at least one previous "relevant conviction" of possession of a weapon or threatening people with a weapon. In these cases, offenders aged 18 or over would be sentenced to a minimum of six months' custodial sentence and a maximum 4 (four) years.
For those aged 16 or 17 the minimum sentence is a detention and training order of at least four months. In Northern Ireland, the minimum and maximum custodial sentences for these offences are the same. In Scotland, the minimum custodial penalties apply - with senescing guidelines increasing the longest jail term for repeat offenders from four to five years.
However, in all cases judges can choose not to impose the minimum sentence if they believe it would be unjust by considering the following mitigating factors: (1) Strong personal mitigation, (2) Whether there is a strong prospect of rehabilitation and (3) Whether custody will result in significant impact on others.
The guidelines therefore provide that those who use knives or highly dangerous weapons to threaten will receive the most severe sentences, in this case greater than a six-month custodial sentence (for those over 18).
Despite having clear guidance regarding custodial sentence for using knives or highly dangerous weapons, yet the number of people in the UK losing loved ones to a knife is continuing to increase. The number of police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument is at its highest in seven years. Therefore, knife crime prevention needs to be explored, and the reasons as to why young people are deciding to carry deadly weapons also need addressing.
However, what happens to the families of victims? In my opinion, the possession of a knife can tear a family apart. The ramifications of a violent outburst can be cataclysmic. In a split second, a family's life can be changed forever, and events such as Ribera's murder raise an important question. What action needs to be taken against those who decide to carry a knife?
While it appears that there is no clear and simple solution to the issue of knife crime, the judicial system has a key role in deterring people from becoming involved, and subsequently punishing those who do. Policing, surveillance and sentencing remain pivotal in combating the knife epidemic, but with falling police numbers and what many see as soft court punishments, is enough being done by the authorities to help solve such a problem?
The judges of the country should get tough on those who face court for carrying blades. Harsh sentences should be given for people carrying knives. We need to ensure that those sentences are being carried out. The sentencing guidelines for knife possession are about right. We just need to make sure that those sentences are actually being carried out.
The writer is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX.
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