Offence of threatening with an offensive weapon etc in a private place

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 3:45 pm, 28th November 2018

My colleague sitting next to me is quite right: my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is always helpful.

Government amendments 56, 62 and 63 are minor amendments and have been included at the request of the Scottish Government. It is fair to say, as I said in Committee, that my officials have had a good working relationship with the Scottish Government on this Bill. These new amendments are intended to facilitate the operation of the new offences within the Scottish legal system. Under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 provision is made for matters of routine evidence in criminal proceedings. These provisions operate so as to allow to be admitted into evidence certain routine matters by virtue of a certificate provided by an authorised expert. That means that if the accused person does not provide at least seven days’ notice of an intent to challenge the evidence prior to trial it is admitted without any further proof being necessary. Given that many prosecutions in this area may be at summary court level, requiring expert testimony in these cases as a matter of course would be unduly expensive, so these amendments will ensure that the new corrosive offences included in the Bill are subject to the existing matters of routine evidence provisions.

Amendments 57 and 58 will limit the new offence of possession of an offensive weapon in section 141(1A) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to possession “in private”. That is to prevent overlap with existing offences. In shorthand, the aim of clause 24 is to prohibit the possession in private of offensive weapons as defined by section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988—for example, zombie knives. Amendments 57 and 58 clarify this to mean in private, because it is already against the law to possess any bladed article—which is obviously wider than the definition of offensive weapons—under section 139 of the 1988 Act.

The approach that we have taken to the new possession offence in the Bill is to mirror the defences that already applied to the manufacture, importation, sale and general supply of curved swords. The burden of proof for the defences that apply to the current legislation for manufacture and so on is to show that the defence applies. Therefore the burden of proof for the defences provided for the new possession offence in the Bill will also be to show that the defence applies. However, the burden of proof for the defence in relation to possession of an article with a blade in public is to prove, which is a higher burden, so to avoid inconsistency we are limiting the new possession offence in the Bill to places other than a public place. In this way, we will continue to rely on existing legislation for possession in public, and the new possession offence in the Bill will apply only in private.

I shall turn now to amendments 59 and 61, and to the Opposition’s amendment 22. Amendments 59 to 61 clarify the wording of clause 25 so as to include “religious reasons”, rather than “religious ceremonies”. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, Mr McFadden and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who tabled amendment 22 and worked with me and my officials to get the law into a better place. This included facilitating discussions with representatives of the Sikh Federation last week, and it was a pleasure to meet them. We can now ensure that the Bill does not inadvertently prohibit the possession and supply of kirpans as part of the observance of the Sikh faith.