Knife crime – the law

12th March 2019

Knife crime – the law

It might help the current debate on the surge in knife crime to set out the law as it stands.

Stop and search

A useful summary of police stop and search powers can be found on the Government website here.

The police can stop anyone at any time and ask questions. You do not have to answer those questions. The failure to answer questions, without any other reason, cannot then be used as a reason to go on and search. If the police have reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying illegal drugs, or a weapon, or stolen property or something for use in committing a crime, the police have the power to go on and search you.

On the other hand, if approved by a senior police officer, you can be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if there is a suspicion that serious violence could take place or you are carrying a weapon or you are in a specified location or area.

If you are searched the police can ask you to remove your coat, jacket or gloves. If the police ask you to remove anything else for the purposes of a search they must take you somewhere out of public view and the person carrying out the search must be the same sex as you.

Before searching you, the police officer must give you information: their name; what they expect to find; why they are searching you; why this gives them the legal power to search you; that you can have a record of the search then and there or how you can get a copy.

These are the powers that police officers have now to combat the carrying of knives.

Carrying of knives

But what are the legal risks of carrying a knife?

  1. You cannot carry a knife in public without good reason unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge three inches long or less. A knife which has a blade which can be locked in position is not a “folding knife” for these purposes. It might include, for instance, a multi tool with a locking blade.
  2. If you bring into the UK, sell, hire, lend, give to anyone or have in your possession in public for any reason a knife of the following sort you will commit an offence: a butterfly knife (a blade hidden inside a handle which splits in the middle); a blade or sharp point described as something else such as a phone, a brush, a lipstick; a flip knife; a gravity knife; a knife or spike not made from metal described as a stealth knife; a sword; a sword stick and a push dagger. The list of banned knives also includes other more exotic forms of knife.
  3. In the present climate the police and courts will examine carefully any reason for having a knife in public but the sort of reasons which might amount to a good reason are: having a knife that you use at work and taking it to and from work; taking a knife to a gallery or museum to be exhibited; for use in a theatre, film or television production or prehistorical re-enactment or for religious purposes.
  4. The courts deal severely with knife offences and there is a maximum penalty of four years in prison. The law provides that any person convicted of carrying a knife more than once will go to prison.

No doubt the whole issue of the carrying and use of knives on our streets will be considered urgently by our legislators as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

For more information or any queries, contact Hugh Rowland on 01473 298141 or email

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