Knives, offensive weapons and the law

A number of different rules apply to knives and offensive weapons and it may not always be immediately obvious what is legal and what isn't.

The law explained

  • it is illegal for anyone, including a shop, to sell a knife of any kind (including cutlery and kitchen knives) to anyone under the age of 18
  • it is illegal to carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade three inches (7.62 cm) or less
  • it is illegal to threaten anyone with any knife or other object
  • the maximum penalty for carrying a knife illegally is four years in prison and an unlimited fine

Offensive weapons

It is an offence to carry an offensive weapon in a public place if you don't have a valid reason to do so.

An offensive weapon is any article that is designed to cause injury to another person or any article being carried with the intention of causing injury to another person.

This means that carrying something that could be viewed as an offensive weapon, and then using it in a threatening way, could mean that you are prosecuted.

The maximum penalty for carrying an offensive weapon is four years imprisonment and a fine.

Banned knives and offensive weapons

There is a complete ban on the sale of certain types of knives categorised as offensive weapons, regardless of their use.

These include:

  • flick knives - where the blade is hidden inside the handle and shoots out when a button is pressed - these are also called switchblades or automatic knives
  • butterfly knives - where the blade is hidden inside a handle that splits in two around it, like wings or the handles swing around the blade to open or close it
  • disguised knives - where the blade is hidden inside something, like a belt buckle or fake mobile phone
  • push daggers
  • gravity knives
  • 'airport' or stealth knives
  • sword-sticks
  • samurai swords
  • knuckle-dusters
  • hand-claws
  • foot-claws
  • blowpipes or guns
  • kubotan (cylindrical container holding spikes)
  • shuriken (also known as death stars or throwing stars)
  • telescopic truncheons (automatically extending)
  • kusari-gama (sickle attached to a rope, cord or wire)
  • kyoketsu shoge (hook-knife attached to a rope, cord or wire)
  • kusari (weight attached to a rope, cord or wire)
  • straight, side handled or friction-lock truncheons

Police 'stop and search' powers

Police officers have the right to stop and search any person or vehicle if they suspect an offence. This includes illegally carrying a knife or offensive weapon.

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