Home Office - UK Law

Knife and sword ownership

Carrying Knives in Public

The CJA 1988 mainly relates to carrying knives in public places, Section 139 being the most important.

"It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him (or her) 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." [CJA 1988 section 139(1)]

The phrase "good reason" is intended to allow for "common sense" possession of knives, so that it is legal to carry a knife if there is a bona fide reason to do so. Examples of bona fide reasons which have been accepted include: a knife required for ones trade (e.g. a chefs knife), as part of a national costume (e.g. a sgian dubh), or for religious reasons (e.g. a Sikh Kirpan).

In this case, public place is meant as anywhere accessible to the public, so for example a private campsite, which members of the public must book to use, is a public place. Also, knives should only be carried to and from and used at the location where they are needed. For example, leaving a knife in a car for use when you go fishing would be illegal. It should be taken back into the house each time you use the car (other than to go fishing). [1]

The special exception which exists in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (s139) for folding knives (pocket knives) is another "common sense" measure accepting that some small knives are carried for general utility however even a folding pocket knife of less than 3" (76mm) may still be considered an offensive weapon if carried or used for that purpose. It was a long held common belief that a folding knife must be non-locking for this provision to apply.

A Crown Court case (Harris v DPP), ruled (case law). A lock knife for all legal purposes, is the same as a fixed blade knife. A folding pocket knife must be readily foldable at all times. If it has a mechanism that prevents folding, it's a lock knife (or for legal purposes, a fixed blade) The Court of Appeal (REGINA - v - DESMOND GARCIA DEEGAN 1998) upheld the Harris ruling stating that "folding was held to mean non-locking". No leave to appeal was granted.

Illegal Knives

In the UK, the main knife legislation is found in the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 1988 however certain types of knife are banned under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (ROWA) 1959, the relevant section of the latter being Section 1.

"It is an offence for a person to manufacture, sell, hire or offer for sale or hire or expose or have in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire, or lend or give to any person:

  • A) any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, sometimes know as a "flick knife" or "flick gun"; or
  • B) any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force and which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device, sometimes known as a "gravity knife". "

[ROWA 1959 S 1(1)]

Section 1(2) also makes it illegal to import knives of this type, as a result it is (almost) impossible to obtain possession of such a knife without either committing or abetting an offence. Note that the above legislation does not refer to possession of such knives other than possession for the purpose of sale or hire, it is therefore not illegal per se to merely possess such a knife.

this law is aimed primarily at knives designed with features specific to fighting/assault rather than use as a tool.

Burden of Proof

Although English law insists that it is the responsibility of the prosecution to provide evidence proving a crime has been committed an individual must provide evidence to prove that they had a bona fide reason for carrying a knife (if this is the case). Whilst this may appear to be a reversal of the usual burden of proof, technically the prosecution has already proven the case (prima facie) by establishing that a knife was being carried in a public place.

Age Restriction

British law also covers age restriction on the sale of knives in the Criminal Justice Act 1998:

"It is an offence for any person to sell to a person under the age of 18 any knife, knife blade, razor blade, axe or any other article which has a blade or is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for causing injury to the person." [CJA 1988 section 141A]

British courts have in the past taken the marketing of a particular brand of knife into account when considering whether an otherwise legal folding knife was carried as an offensive weapon. A knife which is marketed as "tactical", "military", "special ops", etc could therefore carry an extra liability. The Knives Act 1997 now restricts the marketing of knives as offensive weapons and thus it is much more unlikely that such marketing could be used as evidence against a defendant.

In practice, this law makes it highly unlikely that most shops would sell a knife to someone younger than 18.

Illegal Goods

Samurai and other curved Swords - On April 6th 2008 a law came into effect banning samurai and other curved swords with a blade length of 50cm or more, there are some exceptions for registered martial artists, re-enactors and even certain genuine Japanese swords.

An amendment to this act was passed, which came into effect on the 1st of August 2008, which allows curved and samurai swords which are handmade using traditional forging/production methods to be sold without a license which you will see on the site and can buy and own without a license.

We also sell handmade swords which, in our expert opinion, meet the definition set out in the amendment, but, according to the home office, were not really intended to. As a responsible retailer we have restricted their sale to martial artists, to prevent online sales their price will show as £0.00 and you will not be able to purchase one without first supplying us with a copy of a valid club membership.

Some controversial legislation was passed in 1988 which made certain types of knives illegal to import or sell in the U.K, these include push daggers, butterfly knives, blowpipes, sword canes, gravity knives (similar to flick knives), knuckle dusters (inc. knives and other weapons with knuckle duster style handles), throwing stars (with 3 or more spikes) and some martial arts equipment, we will not source these items for you so please don't ask. For a more detailed breakdown you can view 'The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons)' by clicking OFFENSIVE WEAPONS ACT.

Amendment of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988

—(1) The Schedule to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988(1) (which specifies offensive weapons for the purposes of section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 1, after sub-paragraph (r) insert—

“(s)the weapon sometimes known as a “zombie knife”, “zombie killer knife” or “zombie slayer knife”, being a blade with—
(i) a cutting edge;
(ii) a serrated edge; and
(iii) images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence.”.

Crossbows Act 1987

1987 CHAPTER 32

An Act to create offences relating to the sale and letting on hire of crossbows to, and the purchase, hiring and possession of crossbows by, persons under the age of seventeen; and for connected purposes.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1.  Sale and letting on hire

A person who sells or lets on hire a crossbow or a part of a crossbow to a person under the age of seventeen is guilty of an offence, unless he believes him to be seventeen years of age or older and has reasonable ground for the belief.

2.  Purchase and hiring

A person under the age of seventeen who buys or hires a crossbow or a part of a crossbow is guilty of an offence.

3.  Possession

A person under the age of seventeen who has with him—

(a)  a crossbow which is capable of discharging a missile, or
(b)  parts of a crossbow which together (and without any other parts) can be assembled to form a crossbow capable of discharging a missile,

is guilty of an offence, unless he is under the supervision of a person who is twenty-one years of age or older.

4.  Powers of search and seizure etc.

(1)   If a constable suspects with reasonable cause that a person is committing or has committed an offence under section 3, the constable may—

(a)  search that person for a crossbow or part of a crossbow;
(b)  search any vehicle, or anything in or on a vehicle, in or on which the constable suspects with reasonable cause there is a crossbow, or part of a crossbow, connected with the offence.

(2)   A constable may detain a person or vehicle for the purpose of a search under subsection (1).

(3)   A constable may seize and retain for the purpose of proceedings for an offence under this Act anything discovered by him in the course of a search under subsection (1) which appears to him to be a crossbow or part of a crossbow.

(4)   For the purpose of exercising the powers conferred by this section a constable may enter any land other than a dwelling-house.

5.  Exception

This Act does not apply to crossbows with a draw weight of less than 1.4 kilograms. 

6.  Punishments

(1)   A person guilty of an offence under section 1 shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(2)   A person guilty of an offence under section 2 or 3 shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(3)   The court by which a person is convicted of an offence under this Act may make such order as it thinks fit as to the forfeiture or disposal of any crossbow or part of a crossbow in respect of which the offence was committed.

7.  Corresponding provision for Northern Ireland

An Order in Council under paragraph 1(1)(b) of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (legislation for Northern Ireland in the interim period) which contains a statement that it is made only for purposes corresponding to the purposes of this Act—

(a)  shall not be subject to paragraph 1(4) and (5) of that Schedule (affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament), but
(b)  shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

Short title, commencement and extent

(1)   This Act may be cited as the Crossbows Act 1987.

(2)   Sections shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(3)   Sections 1 to 6 shall not extend to Northern Ireland.