Initial thoughts about the proposed Offensive Weapons Bill 2018

Since October last year, Matt Easton and Keith Farrell have been working hard to mobilise the UK HEMA community to respond to the government consultation on the proposed Offensive Weapons Bill. Now that the wording of the proposed bill has become available on the government’s website, here are our initial thoughts on specific parts of the bill, and some conclusions that we can draw from it.

The government has moved forward with its proposed legislation (the draft Offensive Weapons Bill) to ban the delivery of bladed articles purchased online to residential addresses. The Home Office has released the first draft of the new Offensive Weapon Bill on 19 June 2018.

Announcement

The government’s announcement is available here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-introduces-new-offensive-weapons-bill-to-tackle-serious-violence

Summary of public consultation

The Home Office published their summary of responses to the public consultation that ran between October and December 2017:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/717673/SUMMARY_OF_CONSULTATION_RESPONSES.pdf

The original consultation and its documents:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/offensive-and-dangerous-weapons-new-legislation

There were 10,712 responses in total, with about 30% dealing with the proposals involving knife sales, so about 3500 or so.

The majority of responses seem to indicate that the majority of people believe ther proposals to be a bad idea; however, the government is going full steam ahead with the legislation.

What our responses to the consultation HAVE MANAGED TO ACHIEVE is that the proposed legislation contains many exemptions and legal defences for reasonable use, meaning that in the HEMA community we should not be too worried about this. We should nevertheless continue lobbying, until the law is finalised, as the details of this draft Bill can be revised before final publication.

It is important to point out that it is unlikely that these defences and exemptions would have been put in place if the community had not responded to the consultation the way we did.

If we had not acted as a community, then the proposed legislation as it was proposed (i.e. WITHOUT these exemptions and defences) would be what is now going before Parliament. It is beyond a shadow of doubt that our community response has been effective in modifying the early proposals into the more reasonable and more nuanced Offensive Weapons Bill that we see now.

Progress of the bill, and its documents

The progress of the Bill can be viewed here:

https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons.html

The proposed dates for each stage of the Bill can be viewed here:

https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons/stages.html

The documents relating to the Bill can be viewed here:

https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons/documents.html

The impact assessment is worth reading, once you have gone through the wording of the Bill itself.

The Bill itself

The specific wording of the Offensive Weapons Bill can be found on the government website here:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0232/cbill_2017-20190232_en_1.htm

Initial thoughts about the Bill

It is worth noting that while the original proposal was that the law would only apply to England and Wales, the text of the Bill now seems to extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland as well.

Therefore, it is important for people in Scotland and Northern Ireland to become familiar with the Bill and its potential rammifications.

Definition of “residential premises”

Under section 15 “Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc”, pages 14-15, we see that it will indeed be an offence for a seller to arrange delivery of “a bladed product” to a “locker” or to “residential premises”.

According to subsection (5), these are defined as “premises used solely for residential purposes”. According to subsection (6), premises do not count as “residential premises” for the purpose of this offence “where premises are not residential premises for the purposes of that subsection include, in particular, where a person carries on a business from the premises“.

It should therefore be a defence for sellers to sell to and to delivery to self-employed people, or maybe even people working from home. It would be good to have more clarity on this point from the Home Office.

Defences for customised items, historical re-enactment, and sport

Under section 16 “Defences to offence under section 15”, pages 15-16, we see some further defences for sellers.

According to subsection (3), it is a defence if the bladed item is customised or adapted according to the buyer’s specifications.

So, smiths making custom pieces for buyers should be able to arrange the sale and the delivery.

According to subsection (4), there is a defence if the item is “for use for relevant sporting purposes or for the purposes of historical re-enactment”.

So, sellers should be able to arrange sales and deliveries of bladed sporting or re-enactment equipment to people who will use it for sporting or re-enactment purposes.

According to subsection (8), “‘historical re-enactment’ means a presentation or other event held for the purpose of re-enacting an event from the past or of illustrating conduct from a particular time or period in the past.”

So, HEMA could be defined as historical re-enactment under this definition.

According to subsection (9), “sporting purposes” are defined as being when “(a) the product is used by the person to participate in a competitive sport involving combat between individuals, and (b) use of the product is an integral part of that sport.”

So, HEMA activities could be defined as sporting purposes under this definition.

Sharp or blunt

Under section 17 “Meaning of ‘bladed product’ in sections 15 and 16”, page 16, in subsection (1) we see a definition of “bladed product”: it is an article which “(a) is or has a blade, and (b) is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin.”

So blunt steel, plastic, or wooden  training tools would NOT count as “bladed articles” for the purpose of this legislation. Only sharp items would count as “bladed articles”.

This is very significant, as blunt and sharp has not really been addressed in previous UK laws.

Delivery to under-18s

Under section 18 “Delivery of bladed articles to persons under 18”, pages 16-17, couriers will commit an offence if they deliver a marked parcel to an under-18. Marked parcels may only be delivered to adults aged 18+.

However, for the purpose of this part of the law, “bladed articles” may have a broader definition (refer to the Criminal Justice Act 1988), and may also include blunt or synthetic swords.

Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 defines these items as follows: “(2)…(a) any knife, knife blade or razor blade, (b) any axe, and (c) any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person.” This definition does NOT include the wording for cutting skin.

Antiques are not mentioned

Ever since the Offensive Weapons Act 1988, antiques have been exempted from this legislation.

However, in the draft Bill, in its current form, antiques are not mentioned in regards to postage. This is highly surprising, as it was expected that antiques would be the first thing to receive an exemption, or at least “defence”.

There is therefore a campaign to get antiques either completely exempted, as with previous legislation, or included as a ‘defence’ alongside sports and re-enactment.

Defence vs exemption

It is worth noting that recent policy makers in Westminster have been keen to rely on ‘defences’ rather than exemptions. The reasoning for this is not clear to us, but it is probably to give the advantage to prosecutors in court cases and reduce the possibilities of criminals escaping charge.

In recent years the most common use of a legal “defence” that we have seen regular use of in the HEMA community is around the inclusion of curved swords on the Offensive Weapons list. It is a “defence” to purchase or sell a curved sword if it is traditionally made or being used for martial arts / sport / re-enactment.

So far, this system has worked reasonably well and most people actively use this defence to buy and sell curved swords regularly, though there have been notable instances where people have been arrested before their “defence” was accepted.

Conclusions

It looks like the Bill is not going to make life much more difficult for law-abiding sports, martial arts and re-enactment people, which is a pleasant change.

It probably will come with slightly more painful overheads and duties for businesses who sell online and who have to arrange delivery. This may have an impact on how easy it is for buyers to make these purchases online. It may increase delivery times, as well as cost.

People in Scotland and Northern Ireland are going to be subject to this law, even though the consultation suggested that might not be the case.

The Bill is still just a draft Bill (a proposed law) rather than an Act (an actual law), and there are still several steps to go through, including both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The community has had a concrete impact on the wording of the bill, following the consultation; so we must keep up the momentum and effort, and make sure our MPs will take a reasonable approach to the bill as it goes through Parliament.

Until it becomes law, nothing is certain, so we must not lose momentum and must keep lobbying. We should also be aiming to give antiques AT LEAST the same level of defence as sport and re-enactment items, and preferably full exemption in line with former legislation.

Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.