Acid listed as ‘highly dangerous weapon’ in updated sentencing guidance

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Acid is explicitly listed as a potentially dangerous weapon for the first time in new sentencing guidelines.

Official guidance for courts has been updated after a surge in attacks involving corrosive substances.

Advice published by the Sentencing Council on Thursday advises judges and magistrates on punishments for offenders convicted of possessing knives and other weapons in public, or using them to make threats.

When the guidelines were released in draft form in October 2016, there was no specific reference to acid.

But the final version includes additional detail on what constitutes a “highly dangerous” weapon following feedback received during a consultation period.

It says: “An offensive weapon is defined in legislation as ‘any article made or adapted for use for causing injury, or is intended by the person having it with him for such use’.

“A highly dangerous weapon is, therefore, a weapon, including a corrosive substance (such as acid), whose dangerous nature must be substantially above and beyond this.

“The court must determine whether the weapon is highly dangerous on the facts and circumstances of the case.”

Public concern over the use of acid as a weapon has intensified following a flurry of incidents, while knife crime has come under the spotlight in recent weeks amid a spate of fatal stabbings.

Sentencing Council member Rosina Cottage QC said: “Too many people in our society are carrying knives.

“If someone has a knife on them, it only takes a moment of anger or drunkenness for it to be taken out and for others to be injured or killed.

“These new guidelines give courts comprehensive guidance to ensure that sentences reflect the seriousness of offending.”

The Sentencing Council said its approach takes account of the introduction of new offences and court judgments to ensure crimes involving knives or particularly dangerous weapons, as well as repeat offences, receive the highest sentences.

Some rises in sentence levels are anticipated, mainly in cases where adults are convicted of possession offences.

The document also spells out how under-18s could face tougher punishments if they film their crimes to post them on social media.

Courts will be encouraged to look in greater detail at the age, maturity, background and circumstances of young offenders when deciding on their sentence.

The criminal justice system is dealing with a rising numbers of individuals who have been caught with knives or other weapons.

In the three months to September 2017, there were 3,359 offences of possession of an article with a blade or point, 1,708 of possession of an offensive weapon and 257 of threatening with a knife or offensive weapon that resulted in a caution or sentence in England and Wales.

The combined total of 5,324 was the highest quarterly figure since the equivalent three-month period of 2011.

The new guidelines – which come into force in England and Wales from June 1 – cover a number of offences including possession of, or threatening with, an offensive weapon or bladed article in a public place.

They do not apply to situations where a knife or other weapon is actually used to harm someone.

Sentencing guidelines must be followed unless a judge or magistrate concludes that doing so is not in the interests of justice.

Justice Minister Rory Stewart welcomed the new guidelines.

He said: “Knives ruin lives and fracture communities – and carrying a weapon is often an indicator of further devastating crimes to come.

“We must equally recognise the emerging threat of other weapons, such as acid, and those caught with any offensive weapon must feel the full force of the law.”

The Home Office said it was making good progress on implementing its action plan to tackle the use of corrosive substances in violent attacks.

A spokesman added: “We will shortly announce our response to last year’s consultation on new legislation banning sales of corrosives to under 18s and introducing a new offence for
possessing corrosive products in a public space.

“In the meantime we have put in place a set of voluntary commitments with retailers to restrict access to most harmful products.”

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