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The Sharp End of the Law? Knife Crime Prevention Orders

12 April 2019

Article by: Alice Brackenbury


A glance at any current news source reveals rising government and public concern about knife crime. The latest government proposal to tackle knife crime has, however, provoked widespread criticism.

Under the Offensive Weapons Bill 2017-19 as currently drafted, Knife Crime Prevention Orders are civil orders which, it is proposed, could be imposed on adults and children as young as 12 years of age, on the application of a chief police officer or the prosecution in a criminal matter leading to conviction.

The imposition of civil orders with a view to preventing offending is not new; Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) have been available to the courts since 2014 and they replaced the well-known Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). Knife Crime Prevention Orders would potentially impose equally onerous and coercive requirements on individuals, for instance requiring the individual to participate in certain activities or prohibiting them from being in a locality or associating with particular persons.

However, in contrast with CBOs, one of the proposed procedures to apply for the proposed Orders would effectively bypass the criminal justice system in two important ways:

• No criminal conviction would be required for an Order to be applied for by the police or imposed by the Court;
• In deciding whether to impose an Order in such circumstances, the Court would apply the civil standard of proof (the balance of probabilities), which is lower than the standard (beyond reasonable doubt) applied in a criminal trial or to impose a CBO.

Knife Crime Prevention Orders could also be imposed on conviction for an offence involving violence or use or possession of a bladed article. The Orders could be up to two years in duration and breaching any of the requirements without reasonable excuse could lead to a criminal conviction and up to two years in prison.

The proposals have faced widespread criticism, including from MPs and from the Ministry of Justice when first proposed; and from various groups ranging from human rights organisations such as Liberty and the Prison Reform Trust. The Youth Offending Team Managers’ Association believes that the Orders are likely to ‘fast track children into custody’.

The Government has also faced criticism for failing to consult with key groups including Youth Offending Teams, social services and youth organisations prior to adding provision for the Orders to the proposed legislation, including by the Magistrates Association which represents those who stand as magistrates in the courts proposed to be tasked with handing out the orders.

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