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Offensive Weapons Bill

After an increase in acid attacks and stabbings, the Offensive Weapons Bill is passing through Parliament; as the Government seeks to tighten the law on the sale of corrosive substances and knives.

If you have an interest in the Bill, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee; which is expected to hold its oral evidence sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, July 17 and 19. Proposed are:

– a new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place;
– and of selling certain harmful corrosive products to under18s;
– new restrictions on online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products, including restrictions on deliveries to residential premises;
– a new offence of possessing certain offensive weapons in public (the weapons concerned are already subject to restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation);
– and reclassifying certain firearms as “prohibited weapons” under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

At the second reading of the Bill on June 27, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, opened the debate with Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh responding for Labour. Beforehand, John Hannett, shortly before he retired as General Secretary of the retail workers’ union Usdaw, welcomed the Bill as much needed. “We have all been appalled by the increase in assaults and deaths when acid and knives were used as offensive weapons.

“Shop workers will play a vital role on the frontline of policing this law, as they already do on the sale of alcohol and other age-restricted products. Yet they are offered no additional protection under the law and shop workers can be treated like criminals if a mistake is made at the point of sale.

“As the Bill is currently drafted, there are severe penalties on shop workers who sell corrosive substances or knives to someone under 18, but there is no penalty on the individual attempting to make an illegal purchase. This is a perverse situation, with the shop worker referred to as the ‘accused’ in the Bill, but no criminality is attached to the person trying to buy a potentially offensive weapon.

“The Bill says that it is possible for a shop worker found guilty of an offence to be sent to prison. This is the first time that a custodial sentence has been attached to an under-age sales offence. That seriously increases the pressure on the shop worker, with no apparent consequences for the purchaser. Surely the balance is wrong? We want an offence of attempting to illegally buy an offensive weapon to be included in the legislation, so that the customer is equally liable for an illegal purchase.

“We welcome the specific offence of obstructing the police conducting a search for offensive weapons and the additional protection that provides officers. All too often in the course of their duties shop workers are assaulted, threatened and abused, particularly when enforcing age-restricted sales laws. It is difficult to imagine that someone refused the illegal sale of an offensive weapon will just quietly go away. The reality is they are very likely to get angry and possibly violent towards the shop worker who has refused the sale. So we want to see in the Bill a specific offence for assaulting shop worker who is enforcing the law.”

The Offensive Weapons Bill 2017-19 (HC Bill 232) was published on June 20.


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