Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place

What is the offence?

Possessing an offensive weapon in a public place is an offence contrary to s 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953.

To satisfy the charge, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements:

  1. has with him (possession);
  2. in any public place;
  3. any offensive weapon.

Having established all of the above, the charge would succeed, unless the accused proves that he had either:

  • lawful authority; or
  • reasonable excuse.

What is an offensive weapon?

The term ‘offensive weapon’ is defined as: ‘any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use.’

To be considered an offensive weapon, the article must come within one of the following three categories:

1. An offensive weapon per se

The following have been held to be offensive weapons per se because they do not have any innocent quality: machete, sword, flick knife, truncheon. However, a lock knife, ordinary razor or a penknife have been held not to be offensive weapons per se, because they do have an innocent purpose.

2. Something adapted to cause injury

This could include a bottle that has been deliberately broken, a potato with a razor blade inserted into it, or an unscrewed pool cue.

3. Something that is not offensive per se, or adapted, but is intended to be used for the purpose of causing injury

For example, a work hammer or a stone etc.

Do the prosecution have to prove that the possessor also had an intention to cause injury?

If it is a weapon that is offensive per se, or that has been adapted to cause injury, there is no requirement on the prosecution to prove that the possessor also intended to use it to cause injury. However, if the object falls under the third category, the prosecution must prove the intent to injure.

What is possession?

This means ‘knowingly has with him’. Therefore, if the accused did not know that the weapon was on their person, they cannot be in possession of it. The prosecution have to prove the accused knowingly had possession of the weapon. Also, it has been decided in McCalla (1988) 87 Cr App R 372, that a person who forgets that he has the offensive weapon, is still considered to be in possession for the purposes of the statute.

What is a public place?

A public place includes any highway and any premises or places to which, at the material time, the public have or are allowed to have access. A car is also considered as a public place, unless it was parked on private property at the time.

What are the defences?

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For more information on:

  • Lawful authority
  • Reasonable excuse
  • If I find an offensive weapon on the street, will I be committing an offence if I picked it up?
  • Is it a reasonable excuse to carry an offensive weapon for the purpose of self defence?
  • On whom does the burden of proof rest?
  • What is the range of sentencing?