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 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.
Sentencing Council magistrate member, Jo King JP, said:
“Selling knives to children can lead to very serious consequences. There is the risk of serious physical harm to the children who buy these knives and to other people as well as the risk of wider social harms associated with the circulation of weapons among children. A child purchasing a knife is also at risk of prosecution for possession of the knife.
“It is important that all possible safeguards should be put in place to prevent the sale of knives to children, and that the penalties for organisations are substantial enough to bring home to both management and shareholders the need to operate within the law.”
There are currently no sentencing guidelines for this offence, which is prosecuted by Trading Standards and is dealt with in magistrates’ courts.
Paul Noone, Acting Chair National Trading Standards, said:
“Given the devastation youth knife crime causes, Trading Standards has campaigned hard for consistent rules to be applied in sentencing those who sell knives to children. We strongly support this move by the Sentencing Council to seek to achieve this important outcome.”
Notes to editors
- 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.
- The offence of selling knives to children is prosecuted by the Trading Standards departments of local authorities. It is used to prosecute retailers who fail to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent children purchasing knives.
- In practice prosecutions result from test purchases where a child, under the supervision of Trading Standards officers, attempts to purchase an age restricted item. If the retailer allows the sale to go ahead, they are liable to be prosecuted.
- The majority of offences are punished by way of a fine.
- Fine amounts received by individuals between 2016 and 2020 ranged from £34 to £6,000 (the mean was £582 and the median £308). All of these fine amounts are after any reduction for a guilty plea.
- 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.
- All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing
- Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
- Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
- The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
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