Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Keith Farrell, on behalf of the Academy of Historical Arts Ltd (OWB124)

I am writing to you today to offer my "relevant expertise and experience", in light of my special interest in the Offensive Weapons Bill that is currently passing through Parliament.

Summary of main points:

- Recent petitions

- Clarification of what is intended by "defences" and "exemptions"

- Suitable defences for antique bladed articles

- What is acceptable for "age verification" upon delivery?

- Clarification of how it will work with blades coming from or being posted to an address abroad

Personal experience and background

1. I have been involved in the practice of martial arts since 1998, have been running my own martial arts clubs since 2008, and have been teaching martial arts in a professional capacity since 2015, when the Academy of Historical Arts Ltd was incorporated. Furthermore, I have a personal collection of antique swords and use these in educational outreach activities, and I am a trustee for the Triquetra Collection of antique swords and fencing treatises. I have been aware of this Bill since its introduction in 2017, I contributed to the public consultation, and have contacted my MP to discuss the Bill. Since I have a vested interest in these matters, both personally and professionally, I feel that it is important and valid for me to write to you today.

Recent Petitions

2. There is currently a petition with over 21,000 signatures, calling for the removal of Article 15 from the Bill. [1] The government responded to this petition on 18/07/2018, saying that there are many defences in the Bill, but I believe that certain defences have been omitted by oversight, in particular a defence for the purchase, sale, delivery, and possession of antique bladed articles.

3. There is another petition with over 6600 signatories, with a focus on gaining an appropriate defence for bladed articles of an antique nature. [2]

Clarification of what is intended by "defences" and "exemptions"

4. I believe that it is of immense importance to include the defences for bladed articles used in sport and re-enactment. It is also incredibly important to include a comprehensive list of bladed articles that are exempt, because, as it stands, previous legislation has cast a very broad net in terms of defining what a "knife" is for the purpose of committing one kind of offence or another; [3] it is clear from the government’s response to this petition that certain types of bladed articles are seen as less problematic as others (which is really just common sense), and so there should be appropriate defences for reasonable items bought, sold, possessed, and used in a reasonable way by reasonable people who have a good reason for having and using the item in question.

5. It would be helpful to have a clarification of exactly what the government intends by "defences" and "exemptions". As I understand the law: a "defence" means that you break the law by having the thing, but that if a court case is brought against you for having it, you can potentially overturn the prosecution against you if you can provide enough evidence to make those involved in deciding your fate believe that you qualify for the defence; whereas an exemption means that having the thing is simply not illegal in the first place, saving everyone involved (including the government and the Crown Prosecution Service) the time and expenses of a court case.

6. During the public consultation, the government provided its Impact Assessment, which was then updated in May 2018. [4] This document shows that the government expects that not only will businesses suffer financially and that private customers will have to bear increased costs as a result of this Bill, the government and criminal justice system and police service will also suffer increased costs dealing with people falling foul of Article 15 in the Bill. It might be a better economy to make some of these "defences" into "exemptions" to spare the costs of potential trials, or at least to make the "defences" as clear and unambiguous as possible so that it becomes obvious and without confusion when people have the benefit of these "defences".

Suitable defences for antique bladed articles

7. Given the government’s response to the change.org petition, it is clear that the focus of the Bill is to make it more difficult for people without a legitimate reason to buy online (and have delivered to their home) knives intended to cause harm to others, and that the Bill is not intended to prohibit the purchase, sale or delivery of reasonable bladed articles for legitimate purposes, it seems incredibly strange that section 16 ("Defences to offence under section 15") does not include any defence for the sale, purchase, or delivery of antique bladed items such as antique swords. As per my points in paragraphs 4 and 5 above, it is incredibly important that the Bill gives a clear and comprehensive list of what is allowed (and their appropriate defences or exemptions), and antiques should be included within this list.

8. Antiques are an important part of our country’s heritage. Individuals may possess family heirlooms such as a grandfather’s sword from a war; charities and museums possess large collections of antique bladed items; stately homes and wealthy families often possess armouries of antiques from some period of history. Not only do people possess antique blades for a wide variety of reasons, circumstances often require that these items be sold (perhaps at auction, perhaps directly to another person, or perhaps even donated to a museum or other heritage trust) and then delivered to the buyer, which (for an individual buying at auction) would include their home address. Antiques are often sent to specialists for restoration, and then need to be delivered back to the owner. It is important to the continued preservation and circulation of antique items that article 16 of the Bill provides the same legal defences (or, even better, a full legal exemption) for buying, selling, and delivering antiques as it does for buying, selling, and delivering sporting blades, re-enactment blades, and blades customised to the buyer’s specifications.

9. Such defences/exemptions for antiques are certainly in line with the spirit of what the government is trying to achieve with this Bill, according to its response to the change.org petition. Furthermore, antiques have been specifically exempted from other weapon-related legislation, [5] so there is clear precedent for making legal defences (and complete exemptions) for buying, selling, delivering, and possession of antiques.

What is acceptable for "age verification" upon delivery?

10. There is currently no postal service or courier service operating in the UK that offers age verification upon delivery. Similarly, the Post Office does not offer any kind of age verification when you go to collect a parcel from them. There are currently no models or best practices for this anywhere in the UK. It would be helpful for the government to spell out exactly how the age verification is supposed to happen upon delivery/collection, exactly whose responsibility it is to enforce this, and exactly what counts as evidence. Does a signature (such as that for a "signed-for" delivery) count? Does a courier need to ask for a driver’s licence or passport? What if people do not have such identification, what else might be acceptable? What about a YoungScot card or a similar kind of ID card for young people who do not have a passport and who are too young for a driver’s licence?

11. This proposed scheme is going to be very complicated to implement, much more so than the government seems to acknowledge in everything written about the Bill, except for the Impact Assessment, which acknowledges that it would be difficult and costly to implement and that individuals and businesses would probably suffer financially and in terms of access to the tools and services they need while all this is being worked out over the next few years.

Clarification of how it will work with blades coming from or being posted to an address abroad

12. The Bill is not very clear on how the offences under article 15 and the defences under article 16 will work when an individual or business in the UK (for example, an owner or dealer in antique swords) sells a bladed article to a foreign customer and needs to arrange delivery to their home address, or when an individual in the UK buys a bladed article (for example, an antique sword) from a foreign individual or business and requests delivery to their home address. The Bill needs to address these scenarios, because blades are imported and exported as well as being traded within the country.

Conclusions

13. Thank you for the opportunity to offer these thoughts and points about the Bill. I believe that articles 12, 13, 14, 15 and 18 of the Bill are unnecessary (as most of the situations without defences are already covered by other knife sales legislation), but if they must remain in the Bill, then articles 16 and 17 are of immense importance, although they do not provide sufficient defences or exemptions for reasonable, law-abiding people. There needs to be a specific defence (or better, an exemption) for the purchase, sale, delivery, and possession of antique blades. The government needs to provide further clarification about exactly what is a defence and what is an exemption, and which is the best way to avoid a tangible financial impact and other intangible impacts on the government, the citizens of the UK, and the economy. Finally, the government needs to set out in greater detail what will be acceptable as proof of age and for age verification upon delivery/collection, and perhaps offer some guidance as to best practices for couriers, post offices, etc.

Yours sincerely,

Keith Farrell

July 2018


[1] https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/222776

[2] https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-reconsider-the-offensive-weapons-bill-for-fencers-and-hobbyists

[3] Such legislation including, for example:

[3] Criminal Justice Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/33

[3] Offensive Weapons Act 1996: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/26

[3] Knives Act 1997: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/21

[3] Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, section 75: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2006/10/section/75

[3] Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007, part 3: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2007/17/part/3

[4] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0232/IA%20-%20Offensive%20Weapons%20Bill.pdf

[5] Such legislation including, for example:

[5] The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons)(Amendment) Order 2008: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2008/9780110810324

 

Prepared 13th August 2018