Knife-crime law is clarified

RECENT increases in penalties for people caught carrying knives have been well publicised, writes Gordon Cook.

But they have left some confusion in the minds of the 60-somethings, such as myself, who have carried a knife since we were at primary school.

By knife, I do not of course mean a weapon that would be carried with the intention of inflicting injury, either aggressively or ‘for defence’ - but a folding pen-knife whose most violent act would be sharpening a pencil or cutting string.

Indeed, I can recall that the only time I used the knife at school other than for domestic purposes was when I may have saved someone’s life with it.

Some lout had pulled a fellow-pupil’s school tie so tight that the unfortunate victim was turning an alarming colour and was having difficulty breathing.

My trusty pocket knife swiftly cut through the tie and restored the poor lad to health.

Even today, I carry a Swiss Army type knife, the blade of which is so blunt as to be utterly useless, and whose principal use is in those moments of emergency when a screwdriver or corkscrew (especially a corkscrew) is required.

But with the law taking a far greater interest in knives and those who have them in their possession, the question now is, am I - and the many thousands like me - committing an offence by carrying a pocket knife?

Tayside Police have kindly provided the following guidelines.

“Anyone now found in possession of a knife: on licensed premises; when local gang involvement is probable; at a ‘hot spot’ for violence; and on public transport or at a bus or train station, will now be prosecuted on petition and their guilt decided by a Sheriff and jury rather than by summary complaint.

“This allows a greater sentencing power for the Sheriff and increases the maximum prison term from one to four years.

“In addition there will be a presumption in favour of prosecution on indictment where the accused has previously been convicted of a relevant offence or has a previous conviction for a violent offence involving the use of a knife. There is also a new presumption in favour of opposing bail when the knife is presented or brandished if the case falls into any of these categories.”

The above section defining the law was taken from the Lord Advocate’s Guidelines. The full document can be found on the appropriate part of the COPFS (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) website.

And the good news came in the specific reply to my question.

The police advice continued: “It must be noted that a pocket knife, three-inch blade and under, is not classed as a knife. The former is what your Swiss Army tool probably is.

“If a person is found with a knife and there are reasonable circumstances, e.g. fisherman, part of their job, national costume, etc., then this should be okay, however I must stress it depends on the situation and the circumstances the person caught with the knife is in.”

It seems clear that neither the writer of this article nor any members of a pensioners’ club are likely to come into the above categories.

But, bearing in mind that a pocket knife could certainly inflict serious, if not fatal wounds, there might well be circumstances where officers would take its presence very seriously.

When it is clearly being used responsibly there will be no presumption of crime.

And that means that no old codger with such a knife need be looking nervously over their shoulder the next time they peel an orange.