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Draft Sentencing Guidelines For Underage Sale Of Knives Published

Draft sentencing guidelines for sentencing retailers including large organisations and individual shop owners convicted of selling knives to children in England and Wales were published for consultation today (1 June 2022) by the Sentencing Council.

There are two guidelines – one for sentencing organisations and one for sentencing individuals – which will apply to offenders who fail to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent the sale of knives to under 18s either in store or online.

The proposed guideline for individuals provides for a range of non-custodial sentences, from discharge to high-level community order. The guideline for organisations provides for a range of fines from £500 to £1 million, with fines linked to turnover to make penalties proportionate to the size of organisation (organisations cannot be sentenced to custody or community orders).

The guidelines will ensure the courts take a consistent approach to sentencing this offence. The Council does not expect sentences to change overall for most offenders but, for large organisations, sentences may be higher under the proposed guidelines. The consultation will run from 1 June 2022 to 24 August 2022.

The offence of selling knives etc to persons under the age of 18 is a summary only offence contrary to s.141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; it carries a maximum of six months’ imprisonment (or, in the case of an organisation, an unlimited fine) and can only be dealt with in magistrates’ courts.

This draft guideline applies to the unlawful sale in a single transaction of a small quantity of knives etc (whether in-store or online) by retailers or those employed by retailers. It does not apply to cases of a more serious nature such as those involving large quantities of knives or the deliberate or reckless marketing of knives to children.

Between 2016 and 2020, of around 70 adult offenders sentenced, 75 per cent were fined, 15 per cent received an absolute or conditional discharge, and 6 per cent were made subject to a community order. A further 3 per cent received a suspended sentence order and the remaining 1 per cent were ‘Otherwise dealt with’.

Of nearly 90 organisations sentenced between 2016 and 2020, 99 per cent were fined and 1 per cent were sentenced to a discharge (an organisation cannot be sentenced to custody or to a community order).

Between 2016 and 2020, the range of fine amounts received by organisations was £150 to £200,000 (the mean was £10,264 and the median £2,500). All of these fine amounts are after any reduction for a guilty plea.

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Image credit: “Black Widow kit knife” by CapCase is licensed under CC BY 2.0