Knives and Knife Law - Let's get to the point
I am sure that at some point we have all found ourselves in this situation, for me it was walking half asleep into a supermarket after a weekend in the woods and realising halfway down the veg aisle that I had messed up, big time!
For there, in plain sight for all the see, was my 4 inch Buck knife hanging off my belt in its sheath. Now luckily for me I hadn't been spotted by the docile security attendant and there wasn't screaming members of the public grabbing their children and heading for cover amongst the frozen meat, and I was able to beat a retreat to the safety of my truck to deposit the offending article. But it could easily have been a different story, if I had not realised and someone had called the police I would have had a hard time explaining why I was in a public place doing an impression of Crocodile Dundee. At best I would have got a hard slap on the wrist but at worst it would have been a criminal record, up to £5,000 fine and or up to 4 years in prison and worst of all the loss of my firearms and shotgun certificates!
So let's make sure we all know the law.
For the majority of us who spend time in the outdoors knives are a way of life, a tool worth it's weight in gold that is to be used (and not abused) for its intended purpose, whether it be for cutting a piece of baler twine, shaping wood into a means of making fire or gutting and preparing game. Knives and cutting tools have been around since the dawn of humankind and the list of potential uses in seemingly endless and for someone who also has a couple of (legal) knives about my person I can say that carrying a cutting tool is as second nature as breathing.
Unfortunately our intrinsic relationship with the knife has diminished as the general populations reliance on it has decreased and knives are now viewed as something to be feared, especially by those who have the power to make the laws that effect the people that still use them responsibly. Every day we see stories in the press relating to knife crime and the use of knives as offensive weapons, and for the most part the knives in question are the cheap kind that belong in the kitchen, and are not the treasured possessions that we have owned for many years.
So for people like you and me, the law abiding citizens, it is important to know what we can legally carry and where, and how to stay within the confines of the law whilst still carrying out our day to day activities.
Knives come in many shapes and sizes and are designed for a range of different tasks from micro engraving all the way up to butchering large game. To start to understand knife law we first of all need to know a little bit about knife anatomy, especially being able to identify the
cutting edge. Knives come in two basic forms, folding or fixed blade and the following photo shows 2 fixed blade knives with the different parts of the knife identified.
Pommel/butt - the end of the knifes handle which in some cases is reinforced so that the knife can safely be driven into a workpiece (like a chisel) using another piece of wood or woodland mallet, this technique could be used if you were trying to cut holes through a piece of wood or creating a split in the centre of length of green wood.
Handle - the part of the knife you hold, handles come in various forms, rubberised which remains grippy when wet or covered in guts, wood which is very decorative and natural or bone and antler which is very primitive.
Tang - the tang is the metal that continues from the blade into the handle, you can get full, 3/4 and half tangs.
Finger guard - more of a relic from the days of knives being used as a stabbing weapon to stop the hand slipping forward onto the cutting edge, although not entirely necessary it does provide some protection to the hand, especially when battoning.
Spine - the back of edge of the knifes blade.
Drop point - if the spine of the knife drops to the tip it is known as having a drop point, this can made opening up the belly of game for gutting easier.
Tip - the pointy end.
Belly - the curved part of the knifes cutting edge.
Bevel/grind - the part of the side of the blade that has been cut or ground to the point of the cutting edge, grinds or bevels differer greatly in design and styles from knife to knife.
Cutting edge - the edge of the blade that has been ground to a sharp point for the purposes of cutting materials cleanly.
Heel - the section of cutting edge closest to the handle, this is the part of the knife that is most frequently used for carving and shaping wood as it offers the greatest leverage and control.
Ricasso - the flat section of metal between the cutting edge and the finger guard or handle.
As stated, knives, unlike the wheel, have been re-invented time and time again to the point where it can be difficult to choose the right knife for your purposes, especially if you start to consider Scandinavian grinds, hollow grinds, American grinds, carbon vs stainless steel, etc, therefore in a future article I will look at what features make a good all round bushcraft knife and the different safety precautions and cutting techniques your can employ to make useful woodland products.
For the purposes of knife law though we just need to consider whether our knife is fixed or folding, whether it locks open and the length of the cutting edge.
So first of all let's look at some of the historical changes to the law in the last 100 years that impact upon what we can buy, own or carry.
Prevention of Crime Act: 1953 - made it an offence to have an offensive weapon in a public place, including any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to any person. This could include anything that can be used in an offensive manner such as a screwdriver, etc.
Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act: 1959 - banned the carrying, manufacture, sale, purchase, hire or lending of flick knives and 'gravity' knives
Criminal Damage Act: 1971 - 'those who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another shall be guilty of an offence'. Although not instantly obvious how this relates to knife law, it does relate to Bushcrafter's who are considering accessing land that they do not own or do not have permission to access and then using a knife or bladed article to cut down or damage trees and vegetation (I.e. Property), this would classed as both criminal damage and armed trespass, this same law also relates to damage caused by fire.
Offensive Weapons Act: 1996 - prohibited the sale of knives to under 16 year olds.
Knives Act: 1997 - prohibited the sale of combat knives
Violent Crime Reduction Act: 2006 - banned the sale of knives or bladed or pointed articles to under 18 year olds
The most important law change though that relates to what you or I can do is the Criminal Justice Act of 1988. As well as publishing a list of prohibited martial arts style weapons, it also made it 'an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed, except for a folding pocket knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches. The burden of proving lawful authority lies with the defendant'
This statement is quite long and wordy so let's break it down into its different components;
What is a public place? A public place is any street, road or other place to which the public have, or are permitted to have access, even if you have to pay to gain entry it is still a public place, this includes places such as National Parks, Forestry Commission land, public footpaths, the Wilderness Gathering, game fairs, etc.
Good reasons or lawful authority includes its use for work, I.e. caretaker, tradesmen, shooter, but it would only cover you if you were at your place of work/permission, if you are transporting them to your place or work it must be done in a responsible manner. Other lawful authorities include if they are part of national dress or carried for religious reasons, such as the Scottish dagger (Sgian Dubh).
As stated the 'burden of proving lawful authority lies with the defendant', essentially you are deemed guilty until you prove yourself innocent, so therefore if you find yourself in a police Stop and Search situation or your get caught somewhere you shouldn't be with a bladed article the police, who run a zero tolerance policy, will run through the THIS list;
Has THIS person got permission, to use THIS article, for THIS use, on THIS land, by THIS landowner? If the answer 'NO' applies to any of these questions you will inevitable be arrested and face prosecution and the maximum fine and or prison sentence mentioned above.
So which knives are legal to carry in a public place?
Any folding pocket knife with a blade that doesn't lock open (effectively turning it into a fixed blade), with a CUTTING EDGE not exceeding 3 inches is legal to carry in a public place, it is here you have to be careful as a non-locking folding knife may only have a 2 inch long blade, but if it has a long curved belly the cutting edge may exceed 3 inches. This law also means that tradesman (such as myself in my off days) walking to the shops at lunch time with a Stanley knife in their pocket will effectively be breaking the law as although the cutting edge is far shorter than 3 inches, the locking capabilities makes it a fixed blade knife, opening yourself up to the chance of prosecution.
Below is a photo of the two legal knives that I carry at all times, and a photo with some examples of knives and other articles that are not legal to have in a public place.
So what advice can I give you to help you stay within the law?
If you are transporting knives, saws or axes, treat them like firearms, remember to remove them from your person after use and keep them at the bottom of your rucksack in the boot of the car, somewhere that they are not easily accessible to the driver or passengers, and preferably in a locked container. If travelling by foot have them in the bottom of your rucksack and definitely not concealed on your person (otherwise it become a concealed weapon!).
Try not to carry a knife at all if you can help it.
Remember that 'just in case I need it' is not a reasonable excuse that will work in the eyes of the law.
Have a reasonable cause to carry, travelling to the woods, travelling to work, etc, and try to have proof that you are doing so (saying your going to work on your way home from the pub is unlikely to wash!).
Ensure you have permission to carry a knife if you are on private property, preferably written permission, and use a knife that is appropriate to the activity you wish to carry out (no meat cleavers for fish gutting!).
As a group of people who regularly use knives for their intended purposes it is important to remember that we set the bench mark for responsible knife use, and therefore we should lead by example. If we flaunt or ignore the law we are not only letting down ourselves, but also our fellow practitioners, it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the lot and we are currently on a knife edge (excuse the pun) regarding further changes to the law which could lead to tighter restrictions on purchasing and using knives. So let's set the standard and make sure that we can continue to do what we do for the foreseeable future. Remember that ignorance of the law is no excuse!
Stay safe and have fun out there.