The guidelines were published by the Sentencing Council on 1 March 2018 and will come into effect on 1 June.
For the first time, the guidelines include specific reference to acid as an offensive weapon, described in the guidelines as a “highly dangerous weapon”.
The offence of possession of a blade or a weapon is described as being particularly serious if committed in a school or another place where vulnerable people are likely to be present.
An example of the sentences which will be imposed under the new guideline is that where a person had a blade on school premises, the starting point would be 18 months imprisonment and the range of sentences between 1 year and 2 ½ years imprisonment.
The guidelines set out a number of factors which would make the offence more serious. These include, for instance, a person acting as part of a group or gang, the offence being committed whilst drunk or under the influence of drugs and an attempt being made to conceal or dispose of evidence.
Where a person is being sentenced for a second offence of possessing an offensive weapon (including a blade) in a public place or on school premises, a court must impose a sentence of at least six months imprisonment, unless it would be unjust to do so.
Similar guidelines apply to making threats with an offensive weapon or a blade. For example, making threats on school premises with a blade has a starting point of two years imprisonment (and a range between 18 months and 3 years imprisonment). Any threat involving an offensive weapon or a blade in a public place or on school premises is likely to result in an immediate custodial sentence whatever the circumstances.
Separate guidelines apply for children and young people (aged 16 or over). A court must impose a sentence of at least 4 months detention and training order for making threats with a blade or an offensive weapon, whether or not it is a second offence. Possession of a blade or offensive weapon in a public place or on school premises will lead to a sentence of at least 4 months detention and training order if it is a second offence. It will only be in exceptional circumstances that a detention and training order could be avoided.
The new sentencing guideline sends the clearest possible message that the possession of blades, highly dangerous weapons (including acid) and any other offensive weapon in a public place or school premises without a reasonable excuse will lead to the full weight of the law being imposed.