Knife and offensive weapon offending has a devastating effect on individuals, families and communities. The unlawful provision and possession of weapons encourages violence and can cause serious injury and death, in addition to facilitating other criminal offences.
Controls on the sale of knives and offensive weapons have been in place for decades, including age restrictions. However, not all knife and offensive weapon offending is committed by young people. The carrying of an offensive weapon, a knife, or a bladed/pointed article by anyone is a serious offence. Following rises in knife crime and concerns about the possession and use of prohibited offensive weapons, the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA) brought in further restrictions on knives and bladed products, and controls on their supply and delivery.
The OWA creates an important distinction between ‘bladed articles’ and ‘bladed products’. Bladed products are a specific type of bladed article, and they have extra restrictions on sale and delivery. This will be looked at in more detail below.
The Government has introduced a voluntary retailers’ agreement; Trading Standards and the police encourage retailers to sign up to the agreement, which aims to restrict access by persons aged under 18 to these products.
Selling knives and bladed articles presents particular issues for retailers (both for on-premises sales and those made remotely) and delivery agents. They must all have effective systems in place for identifying products of concern and preventing unlawful sales or deliveries.
These products are covered by a number of controls, including:
- age restrictions, meaning they are prohibited from sale to a person under the age of 18
- restrictions on where these products can be delivered
- prohibitions of certain types of knives and bladed articles
- prohibitions on the marketing of combat knives or the use of knives as a weapon, and on marketing material promoting the same
Age-restricted bladed articles
It is an offence to sell the following bladed articles to a person under 18:
- knife blade
- razor blade
- any other article that has a blade or is sharply pointed, and is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (CJA) does not define the term ‘knife’ and retailers are expected to act responsibly and to consider carefully whether an item could commonly be defined as a knife.
This applies to any article which is, or has, a blade. This can include things that you may not initially think of as a knife – for example, carpentry adzes, gardening tools, hooks and slashers, paint scrapers and multi-tools (tools that contain a knife or blade alongside other devices such as a screwdriver, can opener, etc).
The only exceptions in law to the bladed or sharply pointed age-restriction provisions are:
- a folding pocket knife, and only if the blade does not exceed 7.62 cm (3 inches). Typically this would include Swiss army-style knives. ‘Folding pocket knife’ means immediately foldable, simply by pressing it into place. If the knife has any mechanism to lock the blade, the knife is not a folding pocket knife and not exempted
- razor blades permanently enclosed in a cartridge or housing where less than 2 mm of any blade is exposed beyond the plane which intersects the highest point of the surfaces preceding and following such blades – for example, what are referred to as ‘safety’ razors
Whilst the courts are the final arbiter, the following lists contain items that are likely to fall within the meaning of the 1988 Act prohibition on the sale to under 18s, and those that do not. Items likely to be age-restricted include:
- any kitchen knife regardless of size
- cutlery knives
- bread knives
- knives that can be used for the purpose of hobbies and trades regardless of whether they are marketed as knives – for example, Stanley knives and snap-off cutters
- cut-throat razors
- gardening and farming tools or any other trade tool that could commonly be described as a knife
- butcher knives, including meat cleavers
The following items are not age-restricted:
- pruning saws
- plasterboard saws
For the purposes of sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, a number of important decisions have been made in court cases:
- a butterknife, with no cutting edge and no point is a bladed article (Booker v DPP  169J.P. 368, DG)
- a screwdriver is not a bladed article (R v Davis  Crim L.R 564 CA)
- a ‘lock knife’ does not come into the category of ‘folding pocket knife’ because it is not immediately foldable at all times (R v Deegan  2 Cr. App. R. 121 CA)
- a folding ‘cut throat’ razor which is not capable of being locked in the open position and which has a blade less than three inches is not a folding pocket knife (R v D  ECWA (Crim) 45)
If sold remotely, sellers must not deliver any age-restricted bladed article, or arrange for it to be delivered, to a locker. This is because there is no means of verifying age at the point of collection.
In addition to these controls, if these items also fall within the OWA definition of ‘bladed product’ then they must not be delivered to residential premises unless certain conditions are met if sold remotely.
The term ‘bladed product’ is a term introduced in the OWA and is intended to cover a subset of bladed articles. It means an article with a blade that is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin.
When sold remotely, blaed products must not be delivered to residential premises unless certain conditions are met (see below).
Bladed products are a subset of the wider range of bladed articles to which section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies (in other words, any article with a blade or sharp point). Whilst the courts are the final arbiter of whether an article is a bladed product or not, the following are unlikely to be considered bladed products:
- cutlery knives (other than sharply pointed steak knives)
- utility knives with small cutting blades
- snap-off cutters
- pizza cutters
- small cheese knives
These types of bladed articles can be delivered to residential premises providing the seller follows the conditions set out in the OWA for bladed articles, namely:
- the seller has a system in place to verify the age of the purchaser and that they are not under 18 and that the system is likely to prevent purchases by under 18s
- the package, when dispatched by the seller, is clearly marked that it both contains a bladed article and can only be delivered and handed over to a person aged 18 or over
- the seller has taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to ensure that when the package is delivered, it is handed over to a person aged 18 or over. This applies whether the seller delivers the package themselves or through a third party
If sold remotely, sellers must not deliver any bladed product, or arrange for it to be delivered, to a locker. Again, this is because there is no means of verifying age at the point of collection.
Whether a retailer sells in-store or remotely, they must ensure that they have robust age verification and ID checks in place.
The legislation does not specify what type of age verification system is required; it is up to sellers to make a decision on whether their system meets the requirement that it is ‘likely to prevent’ persons under 18 from buying a bladed article.
If a retailer already has existing Challenge 21/25 policies to ensure that anyone who appears to be below the age of 18 provides acceptable identification before purchasing an age-restricted product, these can be extended to cover the sale of articles with a point or blade. Although the OWA does not specify, acceptable ID is:
- a valid passport
- photocard driving licence (UK, EU or other country)
- a proof of age card such as the PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme
- other valid forms of identification, including (for England and Wales) electronic age verification
Digital age verification
Online age verification software is available that makes use of various sources of information in order to verify both age and identity during the ordering process.
These checks include using the electoral register and/or credit reference agencies. There are also businesses that offer online access to electoral register information, which could be used to verify a purchaser’s age.
Technology-based systems may be right for some retailers but not all, and both retailers and customers may want a range of different options to be available. It is for businesses to decide what system works best for them.
For some retailers that also have a high street presence, purchasers could view and reserve products online and then collect in-store, where age verification checks could be carried out by members of staff. This applies whether they are the actual purchaser or someone collecting the products on the purchaser’s behalf.
If the item is being delivered then the age verification system must, in addition to the above, be capable of ensuring that the item is:
- clearly and properly labelled on its packaging
- only given to an age-verified person
- not left unattended
- not delivered to a residential address without the necessary checks
- not delivered to a locker
Delivery providers must record that these checks and requirements have all been complied with, and be able provide this evidence. Retailers should retain this evidence (retention for at least three years is recommended).
Where a delivery company may use a local shop run by a third party as a collection point for customers to pick up a parcel, rather than – for example – having it delivered to their home address, then age verification must still occur upon collection by the purchaser or someone collecting on their behalf. This is to prevent the offence of delivery to a person under 18 being committed.
It will be for the delivery company and the seller to ensure that their contractual arrangements are sufficiently robust to ensure effective checks are done by any third party operating such shops in these circumstances.
They should obtain (and retain) evidence of this, or it will be difficult for them to show that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to prevent age-restricted items being delivered to a person under the age of 18.
Visit tradingstandards.uk/cppdtest to complete the question and answer section of this module.