Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Ken Timms, Chair, Malvern Community Forest (OWB160)

I am writing as Chair of Malvern Community Forest, registered charity 1142997, whose Objects are

1 To establish, maintain and use woodland and other environmental assets for the educational, health and environmental benefit of the local and wider community

2 To work in partnership with communities, charities and other agencies to increase the awareness, knowledge, appreciation and involvement of the general public with trees, woodland, other environmental assets and associated crafts and skills.

From an ecological perspective of working in a low impact way, from a health perspective of encouraging moderate physical activity, and from the limitations of public liability insurance available to us as amateurs, we and our volunteers work in traditional ways with manually-powered, bladed tools in the establishment and management of woodland and in the encouragement and training of others in woodland crafts and skills, especially green woodworking.

These bladed tools currently fall into the definition of a bladed product in the Offensive Weapons Bill, Section 17 Meaning of "bladed product" in sections 15 and 16, viz.

(1) Subject to subsections (2) to (4), in sections 15 and 16 "bladed product" means

an article which-

(a) is or has a blade, and

(b) is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin.

We spend much of our time in risk assessment and management to ensure that members of the charity, volunteers working for or supporting the charity and members of the public do not sustain any injuries. We would therefore consider ourselves to be knowledgeable and safety-aware users of such tools.

Context

Small-scale woodland management and green woodworking are both rapidly growing leisure interests, but are still fairly small in the scale of other leisure interests. Makers of traditional bladed tools in the UK are even fewer in number, are dispersed across the country, and rely on internet selling to reach economic levels of interested customers. The vast majority of the tools used are imported from Europe and the USA, to a limited number of suppliers in this country, most of whom are internet retailers.

Concerns

Widening the scope of bladed products in the way this Bill does is increasing negative impacts on significant numbers of legitimate users of bladed products and makers and distributers of those products.

It is our specific concern that the tools will become unavailable to individuals with legitimate reasons for buying and using these tools due to the difficulties for the sellers in establishing the age of buyers and their intent in buying such tools; from not finding carriers or delivery agents willing to follow the procedures in the Bill or only after payment of an additional premium to cover the additional responsibility of establishing age of person receiving delivery; or not being able to buy directly from tool makers abroad who are not aware of this legislation or do not understand their obligations when they are explained by buyers.

Our response to the Bill

Having had to become familiar with previous legislation on offensive weapons, we are of the opinion that this Bill is the latest reaction to increased use of bladed products as weapons that is aimed at symptom relief without addressing more fundamental social processes. It may no longer be possible to buy flick knives, but previous legislation has not stopped knives being found and used by specific sections of society. Indeed, the Bill does not address knives in everyday use in the kitchen of every home, and unless and until these bladed products are treated the same as fire-arms requiring a licence and locked storage cupboards, remain a far easier source of weapon than purchasing on the internet.

Assuming the political pressures behind this Bill means that it will proceed, we believe that the following changes to the Bill are needed to allow members of our charity and our volunteers to possess and use bladed tools in public spaces and educational premises, and to give sellers a means of assessing whether a buyer had a legitimate reason for buying the tool.

1 Under Section 16 of the Bill, sub-section (4)

"It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 15 to prove that they reasonably believed that the buyer bought the bladed product for use for relevant sporting purposes or for the purposes of historical re-enactment"

where relevant sporting purposes and historical re-enactment are subsequently defined in sub-sections 8 and 9. There appear to be typographical errors in the layout of these sections. It is suggested both should be in section 9, and the order of definitions should follow that of Section 16, sub-section (4), viz:

a bladed product is used by a person for relevant sporting purposes if and only if-

(a) the product is used by the person to participate in a competitive sport involving combat between individuals, and

(b) use of the product is an integral part of that sport.

"historical re-enactment" means a presentation or other event held for the purpose of re-enacting an event from the past or of illustrating conduct from a particular time or period in the past.

‘Relevant sporting purposes’ does not cover our activities. Whilst we may be using traditional techniques with bladed tools, this is for the continuing purpose of managing woodland and producing goods, not to re-enact a specific event, or illustrating conduct from a particular time or period in the past.

Recommendation 1

Section 16 of the Bill, sub-section 4 should be amended by inserting after the words "historical enactment" the additional words "or other activities carried out to meet the legitimate purposes of a registered organisation such as a business or charity, under the authority and supervision of that organisation".

2 Under The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139 Articles with blades or points and offensive weapons, following sub-sections 1 and 4, sub-section 5 states

Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (4) above, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under the section to prove that he had the article with him ---

(a) for use at work;

Recommendation 2

Sub-section 5(a) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139 should be amended after the word "work" by inserting "whether paid or unpaid (voluntary)".

3 To meet our aim of increasing the awareness, knowledge, appreciation and involvement of the general public with trees, woodland, other environmental assets and associated crafts and skills, we believe it important to educate and train children and young adults to be able to take on the future creation and management of these assets, and continue to use and develop the associated crafts. We would like to continue working with schools that are setting up Forest Schools, and with older children up to 18.

The Offensive Weapons Bill Section 21 Prohibition on the possession of offensive weapons on further education premises amends The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139A Offence of having article with blade or point (or offensive weapon) on school premises to further education premises

The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139A Offence of having article with blade or point (or offensive weapon) on school premises, Sub-section 4 states

Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3) above, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (2) above to prove that he had the article or weapon in question with him-

(a)for use at work,

(b)for educational purposes

Recommendation 3

Sub-section 4(a) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139A should be amended after the word "work" by inserting "whether paid or unpaid (voluntary)".

and

Sub-section 4(b) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139A should be amended after the word "educational" by the insertion of the words "and training".

Whilst these suggested changes will allow members of our charity and our volunteers to possess and use bladed tools in public spaces and give sellers a means of assessing whether a buyer had a legitimate reason for buying the tool, they do not address the seller’s need to determine the buyer’s age, nor the carrier’s ability to judge the age of someone taking delivery of the item. We are further concerned that there will be pressure from sellers to provide electronic versions of additional documentary evidence that significantly increases the chance of on-line identity fraud, which constitutes yet another barrier to legitimate bladed product users.

Ken Timms

Chair, Malvern Community Forest

August 2018

 

Prepared 6th September 2018