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Criminal law and sentencing 

There are a range of criminal offences covering the possession, sale and supply of knives and other offensive weapons. A detailed breakdown of the criminal law on knife crime is set out in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) legal guidance Offensive Weapons, Knives, Bladed and Pointed Articles.

The Commons Library briefing paper Knife crime statistics analyses police recorded crime data, sentencing statistics and NHS hospital data.

In some cases, a conviction for a knife crime offence can result in a mandatory minimum custodial sentence, which requires the court to sentence the offender to at least six months in prison unless there are exceptional circumstances. These include where an offender is being sentenced for a repeat knife crime offence, or for an offence involving the use of a bladed article or offensive weapon to threaten another person in public or on school premises.

The courts can also use knife crime prevention orders and serious violence reduction orders to deal with knife crime:

  • Knife crime prevention orders can be imposed on any individual aged 12 or over who has been convicted of a knife crime offence, or following a police application to court. The orders can set out positive requirements, such as engaging with mentoring, or prohibitions, such as not communicating with specified individuals.
  • Serious violence reduction orders can be imposed on people aged 18 or over who have been convicted of a crime where a bladed article or offensive weapon is thought to have been used in the commission of the offence, or the offender or a person involved in the offence is thought to have had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them (whether or not it was used). The orders give police officers the power to stop and search those who have been issued with an order for the purpose of ascertaining whether the person has a bladed article or offensive weapon with them. This has proved controversial and there are concerns about the possible implications for trust in policing (in particular the impact of the provisions on Black people).

Both types of orders have been introduced on a pilot basis. Evaluations of the pilots will be carried out before the Government decides whether to roll the provisions out across England and Wales.

Following a public consultation, in August 2023 the Government announced that it intends to legislate to introduce a range of new knife crime measures, including a ban on machetes and certain other large knives, a new police power to seize and destroy bladed articles, increased maximum penalties for offences relating to sale and supply, and a new  offence of possession of a bladed article with the intention to endanger life or cause fear of violence. The Government has now introduced these measures in the Criminal Justice Bill 2023-24, which is currently in committee stage in the Commons. Sections 2.3 and 3.2 of the Library’s briefing on the Bill provide further details.

Tackling knife crime

Recent years have seen a range of Government policies aimed at tackling knife crime. These have included:

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