UK Knife Law Article
This is a copy of the article found here written by Danzo
UK Knife Law (edged tools)
There are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding the ownership and carrying of knives and other tools with a blade. This article hopes to clarify the position and answer those questions that arise within the Bushcraft community. Hopefully those with any worries will be reassured in that the law does not seek to criminalise the legitimate user of knives and edged tools.
The questions of what the law regards as a weapon and what as a tool is perhaps a good starting point. Most people are familiar with the phrase 'offensive weapon' but do not know that English law does not contain long lists of illegal offensive weapons. The relevant law is found in the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. Section 1 (1) provides;
Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence.'
So, if you carry a weapon in public without a good reason you can be found guilty of an offence. Currently the penalty could be a two year prison sentence. But what does the Act define as a weapon?
Well, Section 1 (4) provides some help;
In this section 'offensive weapon' means any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him or by some other person.'
So an offensive weapon can be anything made as a weapon (e.g. a gun or sword), anything adapted for use as a weapon (e.g. a walking stick weighted with lead shot) or anything carried for use as a weapon (e.g. a can of hairspray, a rolled newspaper, a length of chain etc. This covers all those situations where something was carried to cause harm.).
What then about the items carried by Bushcrafters? Is your Gransfors axe a weapon? Your Woodlore knife or your Opinel? Your Swiss Army knife? Billhook? Spade?
Firstly don't forget Section 1(1). If you can provide a good excuse you may in fact carry a weapon, let alone an article that might be considered a weapon. This is perhaps a provision that allows a military style parade or a battle re-enactment group to operate without fear of arbitrary arrest and prosecution but it does provide some common sense to the wider community. In the context of bushcraft many things that would normally be considered a weapon would be acceptable as a necessary piece of equipment for a lawful bushcraft activity. A machete, kukri, parang or golok carried down the pub will almost certainly be a weapon; the law will see only a type of sword in a completely inappropriate place. Carried for a camping trip it is simply a tool required for bush clearing, wood splitting etc and unless you were to behave in a stupid and irresponsible way the law will recognise it as a tool being used in an appropriate situation.
The case of Southwell v Chadwick (1986) illustrates this well. The Court of Appeal accepted that it was reasonable to be in possession of a machete and a catapult in a public place for the purpose of killing grey squirrels as food for licensed wild birds. Without this justification either item could have been classed as an offensive weapon, particularly the machete.
Let us start with knives as they are the most important but also most 'misunderstood' piece of edged kit that all bushcrafters carry; sorry axe fans, I am from the knife forum!
Firstly there are very few completely illegal knives. The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 banned the carrying, manufacture, sale, purchase, hire or lending of 'flick-knives' (knives operated by a button or spring on the handle, also called switchblades or automatic knives) and 'gravity knives' (knives which drop open through gravity when a mechanism releases it. If you have one I will dispose of this rare and unusual item for you for a reasonable fee!). A succession of cases has also decided that an automatic knife is an offensive weapon full stop. You may keep one you already have in your home but that's it. Obviously an automatic knife has few bushcraft applications but it is worth recognising the seriousness with which the law treats them. Carry one and if caught you will go to prison.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 also contains a list of prohibited martial arts style weapons. Most are of little interest in a bushcraft context but you need to know that ‘balisongs’ or butterfly knives (where two split handles swing like wings around the knife to close or open it.) are as illegal as automatic knives; a shame as they provide perhaps the most secure of all folding knives.
Before we get on to knives in general it is probably worth mentioning the 'combat knife'. Many people believe that there is a particular type of knife, called a combat knife that is illegal. I know from my own experience that people worry about ex-military kit or military knives bought from overseas. In fact all that is illegal is the selling or marketing of any knife as a combat or fighting knife. There is no law against ownership or possession of such knives other than the range of laws discussed here in this article. Should you have any sort of combat or military knife it is as legal (or not) as any other. The majority of such knives are now marketed and sold as 'survival' knives; the ones with the compass and fishing line in the handle that you can get on ebay for £15.00. There are also some genuine military Aircrew variants, and the knives made by Jimmy Lile that were used in the 'Rambo' films. Authentic Liles sell for over £1000 so if you have one leave it at home for financial reasons! If you use any of these and they work for you then you are quite legal, as long as you have that all important 'good reason' for carrying it. However there are undoubtedly much better knives for bushcraft, particularly the Scandinavian style, such as a puukko but that is beyond the remit of this article.
It is the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that most significantly affects the carrying of knives in the UK.
Simply put it is an offence under section 139 of the Act to carry an article with a blade or sharp point in a public place. A folding pocket knife is not included, so long as the cutting edge is under three inches. In practical terms it is best to take 'cutting edge' as meaning the whole blade, sharp or not. Until the court cases of Harris (1993) and Deegan (1998), a three inch blade locking folding knife was considered legal to carry.
Unfortunately in these two cases it was held that a knife that could not be closed without releasing a lock was in law a fixed blade knife and hence illegal to carry. Those of you who visit www.britishblades.com will know that it is this question of lock knives that we are just a little obsessive about. There isn't really any way around this restriction however.
The position that we start from then is that all fixed blade (sheath knife style) knives, all locking folders and all folders with a blade over three inches long are illegal to carry on a daily basis. This means that a regular Swiss Army Knife, penknife, smokers knife etc are perfectly OK to have on you at all times.
However the law is there to punish the bad guys, not to criminalise the rest of us, and this is why the bushcraft community, who use their knives and other tools in a specific context of lawful outdoor pursuits have little to fear from the law. Two specific defences are provided by the Act and these are very important as they can provide the excuse you need towards a Police officer or in the very unlikely event of ending up in court on a charge under s139.
Under section139 (4) it is a defence for the accused to show they have good reason or lawful authority to carry the knife in a public place.
Secondly under section139 (5) it is a defence to prove the knife is carried for work, for religious reasons or as part of national costume.
So anyone who legitimately requires a knife for work has an defence under s139 (5). That covers literally anybody who can say they require a knife to do their job. However unless you are a Sikh or wear a kilt it is likely to be s139 (4) that provides you with an excuse should a knife you are carrying be challenged by a Police officer. As long as you can provide a 'good reason' you are allowed to carry what you want. It is the question of what amounts to a good reason that causes problems for the average person on a normal day; however this is not the case for someone involved in bushcraft. Involvement in almost any lawful bushcraft activity would be a 'good reason' in the eyes of the law. It is impractical if not impossible to do most bushcraft without a knife or blade of some sort. As the Act includes 'any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed' it extends to the other edged tools used in bushcraft; axes, machetes, billhooks, scythes etc. As long as you have a good reason you are allowed to carry and use these articles.
So, to reiterate:. No knives, other than non-locking folders with a blade under three inches should be carried by anybody on a daily basis unless you need it for work, for your religion, for your national costume or you can supply some other good legitimate good reason. If you have such a good reason, for example heading to the wooded hills for a weekend away from the modern world then you are quite within the law to carry almost anything with a blade or a point
Clearly the exercise of common sense is important here. Keep all fixed blade knives and axes in a bag until you get to your outdoor destination. Don't have sheath knives, machetes or axes on your belt or pack in inhabited areas, or keep them as discreet as possible in the case of small villages if passing through. Even when you are outdoors, refrain from waving knives and axes around and don't mix blades and alcohol. Even the most bushcraft friendly Police officer will have a problem with someone chucking an axe at a tree after half a bottle of Scotch, however far from civilisation you might be. Believe me. Although if you are in the hills between Bwlchgwyn and Llangollen the Constable may just join in!
Lastly there is the important question of what the law considers as a 'public place'. The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 section 1(4) provides that;
'a public place includes any highway and any other premises to which the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise'
This definition has been discussed in numerous court cases and an exact definition has proven evasive. The current position is contained in, amongst others, Knox v Anderton (1982). Here the court held that a 'public place' included premises to which the public could gain access without hindrance, barriers or notices restricting access
To bushcrafters this may mean that unfenced private land might count as a public place for purposes of the restrictions discussed in this article. However as long as you are involved in a lawful bushcraft activity then the precise status of the land may be unimportant. If you are staging an axe throwing contest then ensure the land is private and put up a notice to that effect!
It is important to note that whereas you may regard your vehicle as an extension of your home, the law does not. Your vehicle is a public place in the eyes of the law. This means that it is inadvisable to leave knives, axes etc in your vehicle unattended. It is not impossible that an over enthusiastic officer might decide to make life difficult for you. So keep them out of sight.
Every day the courts convict hundreds of people for offences involving knives and other edged articles under the two acts discussed here. Almost every single one of these are youths with kitchen knives or cheap 'Rambo' style knives bought to look tough. There is no case law I can find which involves convictions arising from legitimate outdoor pursuits; if you know of any, let me know too. It is really just a question of that pre-requisite for most bushcraft; common sense. As long as you are responsible in the transportation, carrying and use of your knives and tools you should not be approached by a Police officer in a lifetime of outdoor activity. If this should happen then a cheerful, calm and above all polite response to questions should have both you and the Officer going on your mutual ways in minutes. Remember the law is there to protect the good people and punish the bad.
I hope this proves useful. Please contact me for any information. I have not included. I have not mentioned bows and arrows as I imagine the interest is minimal as bow hunting is illegal in the UK but if you do want any info then Tony knows where I am!
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