Knife Crime: The new sentencing guidelines

As reported in the media on a near daily basis, there has been a significant upturn in the use of knives across the country over the past few years. Parliament published their Knife Crime Briefing on 25th June 2018 which gave statistical support to this worrying trend. In the year ending March 2017 there were 34,700 knife related offences reported – an increase of 20% compared with same period in 2015. The amount of hospital admissions also increased significantly with 4,434 recorded in 2017, up 7.6% from the previous year and 21.7% up from 2014/15. This has perhaps, inevitably had a knock-on effect in the way that courts have been dealing with cases of this nature, resulting in nearly 40% of offenders convicted of having knifes in their possession, being given an immediate custodial sentence.

It perhaps therefore comes as no surprise that the Sentencing Council have produced a new set of guidelines that came into force on 1st June 2018. Given the changes brought about by these new guidelines, the numbers of offenders being given custodial sentences is now likely to increase further. The most drastic change perhaps comes in relation to the offence of possession of a knife. On the old guidelines, the Council appeared to be more interested in the circumstances surrounding the possession; as simply having a knife would generally result in a high level community order, should the Magistrates decide to follow the recommended starting point. By contrast, under the new guidelines, any knife in someone’s possession is deemed to be the highest culpability (Category A) and even with an assessment of there being “lesser harm”, this would result in a starting point of 6 months in custody. It is conceivable, that if there are any aggravating features to an allegation of this nature, the matter will be allocated to the Crown Court. When considering plea at the Magistrates’ Court for these offences, the issue of credit is also likely to become all the more important, as that could in itself be the difference between the case going to the Crown Court or remaining in the Magistrates Court.

It should also be noted that the guidelines apply retrospectively. This means that if someone commits an offence prior to the 1st June 2018 but does not fall to be sentenced until after that date, they will be sentenced on the new guidelines. It raises a very interesting question about whether it is right to be punished to a different standard compared to when the offence took place. This perhaps becomes more relevant with the continued issues created by suspects being released under investigation for such a long time; and this may be a factor which can usefully be used in mitigation, should charges result.

If you are under investigation, or have been charged with any knife or weapons related offence, it is essential to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.  For more information about how our specialist lawyers can help, contact your nearest office.