Offensive Weapons Act 1996


The Offensive Weapons Act (OWA) 1996 draws together statute law relating to the possession and carrying of knives and similar weapons in public, and restricts the sale of knives and similar implements to minors (i.e. those under 16 years of age).

The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibited the carrying of offensive weapons ‘without lawful authority or reasonable excuse’ (Section 1), whilst the Criminal Justice Act 1988 made it an offence to have an article with a blade or point in a public place (S. 139 (1)).

A defence to a charge of possessing a blade or point in a public place would be to prove that the weapon was;

  • For use at work
  • For educational purposes
  • For religious reasons, or
  • Part of any national costume (S. 139 A (4) as inserted by S. 4 OWA 1996).

Penalties for these offences were also increased by the OWA, ranging from 6 months (with or without a fine) on summary conviction, or 4 years (with or without a fine) on indictment.


knife carrying culture in the UK




In one London Borough, a survey indicated that 85% of children admitted to carrying a knife into school, whilst a fifth of children nationally admitted to the same (Townsend and Barnett 2003 p.8).

A series of high profile knife attacks in schools or involving school aged children, over the last few years (including that of Damilola Taylor), have led some reporters to describe a knife carrying culture in the UK.

Kevin Everard, chief instructor of a government funded weapons awareness programme indicated that it was impossible to control that culture, when knives were so easily obtainable,

They are affordable and everywhere. They are the classic weapons of poverty. Many kids don’t even realise that a knife is designed to kill.




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