Zenith Crime Current Awareness

​The Home Office’s Consultation Paper on new legislation on offensive and dangerous weapons.

20 October 2017

Ashleigh Metcalfe

Acid attacks – How do the Government propose to prevent them?

On 14 October 2017, the Home Office issued a consultation paper on new legislation in relation to offensive and dangerous weapons. Contained within this consultation paper are proposals to make the possession and selling of corrosive substances illegal.

This consultation paper has been issued at a time when ‘acid attack’ offences have seen a recent upsurge in frequency and when reporting on such attacks is being seen more prominently in our news stories.

So, what does the consultation ask us to consider?

It seeks views on two proposals:

  1. Making it an offence to sell products with certain corrosive substances to under 18s;
  2. Making it an offence to possess corrosive substances in a public place.

Both proposals seemingly mirror established legislation in relation to the buying and/or possession of a bladed article.

The first proposal is aimed at addressing the ever increasing problem that those under the age of 18 are freely buying corrosive substances and are currently able to do so without prohibition. By making it illegal for those under 18 to purchase corrosive substances, the Home Office believes this in turn will reduce the number of occasions where corrosive substances are used as weapons to inflict serious harm upon others and/or cause severe life changing injuries. 

What will come under close scrutiny, in relation to both proposals, is what constitutes ‘corrosive substance’? As the proposal currently stands, it appears the legislature will not be defining ‘corrosive substances’ nor provide a written list of that which falls under the ambit of the proposed legislation.

We will, therefore, have to turn to relevant guidance, case law and/or secondary legislation in an attempt to determine what will or will not be included.

The Home Office’s reasoning as to the lack of definition is to allow flexibility to ensure this legislation covers a wide variety of circumstances. However, flexibility may soon turn to confusion and ambiguity in the law, particularly in the statute’s infancy if it is ultimately implemented.

In terms of sentencing proposals, for those selling corrosive substances to under 18s, the Home Office recommends mirroring The Criminal Justice Act 1988 section 139 by imposing a maximum sentence for a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or an unlimited fine, or both.

There is also a suggestion to implement a minimum custodial sentence for those convicted of a second of subsequent offence of possession of a corrosive substance in a public place. Again, this mirrors exactly the position in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 when dealing with knife crime.

This minimum custodial term would be for a period of at least six months’ imprisonment for adult offenders and a period of at least four months’ detention and training order for those aged 16 and 17 years old.

Again, as we commonly see in practice, these sentences ought to be imposed unless to do so would make it unjust in all the circumstances.

The consultation ends on 9 December 2017. A copy of the consultation paper can be found here.

Current Awareness

By the Crime team