Draft Sentencing Guidelines on bladed articles and offensive weapons Contents
In this Report we consider three sets of sentencing guidelines published for consultation by the Sentencing Council. These are the guidelines on: possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon; threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapon; and bladed articles and offensive weapons—youths.
The ‘threatening’ offences all carry mandatory minimum sentences of six months’ imprisonment for an adult or four months’ Detention and Training Order for a youth aged 16 or 17. In 2015, in response to public concerns about knife crime, similar mandatory sentences were introduced for second or subsequent possession offences. The Council’s analysis of court data indicates a steady increase in the use and length of custodial sentences for possession offences over the last decade.
The Council expects the new adult guidelines to increase the proportion of offences that result in custodial sentences but it has been unable to estimate with any certainty how sentencers’ behaviour may change. We say that we appreciate the difficulties in making such predictions, but the prospect of a substantial increase in the number of custodial sentences causes us concern. We recommend that the Council ask the Ministry of Justice to consider how any predicted increase in the prison population might be accommodated.
In summary, our other principal recommendations are as follows:
- Analysis of the impact of legislation should be included in the Council’s annual reports on sentencing factors. The report for 2016/17 should consider the impact of mandatory custodial sentences for offences involving bladed articles and offensive weapons.
- We fully agree that possession of a knife should remain an offence of high culpability. The culpability factors proposed in the adult possession guideline should be reconsidered, taking into account observations from respondents about the need for clarification.
- We recommend that consideration be given to extending the category ranges so that the upper limits for sentencing these offences approximate more closely to the statutory maximum penalties.
- The Council should review the proposed lists of aggravating and mitigating factors to clarify descriptions, to avoid the possibility of ‘double-counting’ and to add ‘remorse’ as a mitigating factor.
- The youth guideline should remind sentencers of their legal obligations towards children who offend, particularly under section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
- To avoid confusion, there should be more consistency between the proposed aggravating and mitigating factors in the youth guideline and those in the overarching principles. ‘Offender in a group or gang’ should be limited to situations where the offender was operating within a group or gang and had an active role in committing the offence.