Possession of a bladed article- Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1998
Possession of a Bladed Article is one of the most common offences that come before the Courts. This may be due to the publicised view of the government and the courts that knife crime is a serious, violent and substantial area of crime which needs to be tackled. As a result, the consequences of possessing a blade, even without any threats or violent actions, can be dire.
The view of the court can be best summarised by the Court of Appeal judgment in R v Povey and Others  EWCA Crim 1261 as follows:
Every weapon carried about the streets, even if concealed from sight, even if not likely to be or intended to be used, and even if not used represents a threat to public safety and public order. That is because even if concealed, even if carried only for bravado, or from some misguided sense that its use in possible self-defence might arise, it takes but a moment of irritation, drunkenness, anger, perceived insult or something utterly trivial, like a look, for the weapon to be produced.
If you are facing a charge regarding the possession of a bladed article it is essential that you obtain robust and experienced counsel.
What is Possession of a Bladed Article?
The offence is governed by Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1998. The Prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt (meaning “sure”) all of the elements to this offence in order for a defendant to be found guilty. The elements are that a person:
1. Has with him [or her]
2. A bladed article
3. In a public place
I will take each of these elements in turn.
I. What does “has with him” [or her] mean?
This phrase does not simply mean in the person’s hands or on their body. It includes all circumstances where there is a close physical link and degree of immediate control over the article. For example a knife could be in a person’s car and they might be in possession of it.
Additionally, there must be knowledge of the person that the article is “with” them. Forgetting about the article, however, has been found to not be sufficient to amount to a lack of knowledge.
II. What is considered a Bladed Article?
A bladed article is an object which has a blade or sharply pointed, however, there are some exceptions.
A folded pocketknife will not be considered a bladed article is the blade is 3 inches or less. A shorter pocketknife could be considered an offensive weapon, as opposed to a bladed article, depending on the intention of the holder. This would apply similarly to a screwdriver.
Length is only a factor when considering folded pocketknives, it does not apply to not other pocketknives or a foldable cut-throat razor (R v R  EWCA Crim 45)
For avoidance of doubt, the blade does not have to be sharp. For example, the court identified that a butter knife can be considered a bladed article (Charles Brooker v Director of Public Prosecutions  EWHC 1132).
III. What is a Public Place?
A public place means any place to which, at the relevant time, the public have, or are permitted, access. This is regardless of whether payment or conditions need to be satisfied for access to be granted. This means that otherwise private places can be considered public for this offence.
Examples include a football stadium, hospital visitor grounds, pub car park during opening hours, a caravan park, a multi-storey car park and landing of a block of flats that lacked barriers, doors/or and notices to restrain the public walking in off the street.
How is the offence of Possession of a Bladed Article charged and sentenced?
The offence differs if the related incident involves threats (offence of threatening with a blade or point of offensive weapon s139AA Criminal Justice Act 1988). If the incident also involved another offence, for example assault or robbery, the weapons offence will usually be charged as well as the other offence.
The offence is triable either way. This means that it can be heard at either the Magistrates or the Crown Court. It carries the maximum penalty of 4 years’ custody. The sentence can range from a fine to custody and will depend on the facts of the case.
It is important to note that the category of the weapon will have an impact upon the likely sentence. There are three categories as follows:
1. A weapon made for causing injury to a person;
2. A weapon not made for that purpose but adapted for it; and
3. A weapon neither made nor adapted to injure but one which is intended by the person to be used to injure.
Furthermore, if the weapon is considered highly dangerous (as 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”) then this will increase the likely sentence.
Possession of a Bladed Article defences
Section 139(4) and (5) CJA identify two defences to a charge of possession of a bladed article.
Section 139(4) CJA establishes that it is a defence if the person charged can prove that they had a good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.
Section 139(5) CJA establishes that it is a defence if the person charged can show that the article was possessed because it was:
• for use at work;
• for religious reasons; or
• as part of any national costume.
As can be anticipated the offence of 'good reason' can be a fruitful ground for defences and there are many circumstances in which this defence can be successful, examples that I have dealt with include recent purchase, self defence and legitimate transportation amongst many others The strength of any defence is entirely dependent upon the facts of the case, and each case can be very different, it is important therefore that specialist legal advice is sought if this defence is contemplated.
As outlined above, possession of a bladed article is taken very seriously by the Prosecution and it can result in a serious custodial sentence. It is essential that if you are facing this charge that you contact a specialist barrister who can raise the applicable defences for you.
Quentin Hunt is an award-winning Criminal Barrister who has over 22 years’ experience in dealing with Criminal appeals. He accepts instructions either through solicitors or directly from members of the public. If you find yourself considering your options for an appeal you may contact Quentin for a free, no obligation conversation about your case.