The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Knife Crime

We seem to be hearing more and more about the appalling waste of young lives from the burgeoning fashion for carrying what is euphemistically called 'protection'. In fact the protection offered by a knife is as illusory as the protection afforded to Americans by their obsession with guns, since carrying a weapon introduces it into the potential crime scene. Many gun-carrying people fall victim to their own weapons, just as carrying a knife makes it more rather than less likely that you will be stabbed. Unfortunately the protection myth is deeply entrenched and there is no simple solution to the problem.
The Sentencing Guidelines have an entry point of custody for carrying a bladed article, and the revised ones that will come into force shortly have the same emphasis, but it has to be said that relatively few offenders end up inside. In some cases the police choose to caution; in others (especially with offenders under 18, where the rules are very different) there may be fines or some sort of community sentence. The circumstances surrounding this offence cover a broad spectrum, from the weedy kid who wants to look as hard as the rest of the gang, to the seriously homicidal psychopath, and sentencing reflects that.
In the current atmosphere of justified public concern the Appeal Court has just handed down an important judgment, and I am grateful to Criminal Solicitor Dot Net for picking it up so quickly. The Judgment speaks for itself.
Case Name: R v Bleazard; R v Povey and other applications
Court: Court of Appeal Date: 21st May 2008
Judgment Summary
An appeal, two applications for permission to appeal, and one renewed application for permission to appeal were listed together as each raised an issue in respect of possession of a bladed article or point or possession of an offensive weapon without reasonable excuse. In one of those cases, namely, the second application, the defendant and others had met in the street, at night, to resolve a personal dispute relating to one of the men. Three of the men, of whom one was the defendant, had knives. The defendant’s knife was in his sock. The police attended the scene before an incident occurred. The defendant pleaded guilty to being in possession of an offensive weapon without reasonable excuse. He had two old previous convictions. The pre-sentence report suggested that a conditional discharge was appropriate. In the event, the defendant and his co-accused were sentenced to four months’ imprisonment.

The court ruled:

Carrying a knife or offensive weapon without reasonable excuse was a crime committed far too often by far too many people. Every weapon carried on the streets, even if concealed or out of sight, or not likely or intended to be used, or unused, represented a threat to public safety and public order. That was because, even if the item was carried only for bravado or some misguided sense that it would be used for possible self-defence, there might arise a moment of irritation, drunkenness, anger, perceived insult or something utterly trivial like a look, where the weapon was then produced, and mayhem would follow, including offences of the greatest seriousness, such as murder, manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm and wounding.
Offences involving knife crime had recently escalated into epidemic proportions. Every knife carried on the street represented a public danger and had therefore to be stopped. Courts would do what they could to reduce or, if possible, eradicate it. It was important that the public had confidence in the criminal justice system. Accordingly, where a person had a knife or offensive weapon without a reasonable excuse, they should be brought before the courts and prosecuted.
For the time being, whatever other considerations arose in the individual case, the sentencing court should have at the forefront of its mind the fact that the sentence imposed in knife-crime cases should focus on the reduction of crime, including reduction by deterrence and the protection of the public. Even if the defendant had done no more than carry a weapon, and even if not used to cause fear, the courts had to bear in mind the harm which might foreseeably have been caused. The stark message was that carrying a knife or offensive weapon was a serious offence which would be treated with the seriousness which it deserved.
Conditions which prevailed now were much more grave than five-and-a-half years ago when the guideline authority had been decided. Accordingly, the guidance in that case should be applied with the current grave situation and relevant sentencing considerations, above, clearly in mind. Moreover, the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines as to bladed articles and offensive weapons, should normally be applied at the most severe end of the appropriate range of sentences. (My emphasis)
In the second application, the case had to be analysed in a different way than it had been before the Crown Court. The offence was a much more serious offence of its kind than the mere possession of a weapon. For a start, the scene was three men, in the middle of the night, who were armed. There was not going to be peaceful exchange of private views in a civilised way. The potential for serious violence was obvious. It was fortunate that the police had been able to intervene before anyone was hurt, and before a public disturbance. That was not to the credit of the defendant or his co-accused. The arming of oneself and joining in with others who armed themselves for the purposes of a confrontation such as that in the second application could not be mitigated by the assertion that the weapon in issue had been taken for self-protection or self-defence. Such an offence did not fall within the category of ’weapon not used to threaten or to cause fear’, as the weapon had not been used because of the intervention of the police. The defendant was fortunate that a longer sentence had not been imposed, as it would have been fully justified and appropriate.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that sentencers are being guided towards the top end of our powers. We shall see what our clerks have to say about it of course, but I expect to see a considerable toughening-up of sentencing. It's not the whole answer of course, but it's right for the courts to add their piece to the jigsaw.

The new Guidelines are
here and the bladed article offence is dealt with on pages 39 and 40 of the pdf.