For possession or threatening with an offensive weapon or possession of an article with a blade or point offences, offenders are now more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence for a knife and offensive weapon offence and to go to prison for longer than at any point over the past 10 years. In the year ending March 2019 over a third (37%) of offences resulted in immediate custody, compared to 22% in the year ending March 2009. The average length of immediate custodial sentences has increased from 5.5 months in the year ending March 2009 to 8.1 months in the year ending March 2019. This is the highest since the series began.
There are a range of offences available to prosecute knife crime and Parliament has set penalties that are proportionate to the nature of these serious offences.
Unlawful possession of a knife or offensive weapon in public is a serious criminal offence with a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment. Since 2015, adults convicted of threatening with a knife in public, or for second or subsequent knife possession face a minimum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment and young people aged 16 or 17 face a minimum sentence of a 4 month Detention and Training Order. Courts can only depart from minimum sentencing if the court considers would be unjust in all the circumstances to impose these terms.
Where someone is physically injured by a knife or offensive weapon there are a range of other offences, such as causing grievous bodily harm, that the person may be charged with. These can result in lengthy determinate sentences or life imprisonment. In England and Wales, all murder convictions for adults must result in a life sentence, and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out a starting point of a minimum term in prison of 25 years for offenders aged 18 and over who bring a knife or another weapon to the scene of a murder with the intention of using it.
It is already the case that for offences where the possession or use of a knife or offensive weapon is not inherent to the offence or charged separately, possession will be treated as an aggravating factor, which increases the seriousness of the offence. This is outlined in several sentencing guidelines produced by the independent Sentencing Council.