What constitutes a reasonable excuse for carrying an offensive weapon

Implications of a recent judgment

A butterfly knife

A recent judgmentGarry v Crown Prosecution Service [2019] EWHC 636 (Admin) by the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division, considered how a court should deal with a proposed defence that an offensive weapon was being carried because it was needed for work purposes. The court decided that establishing that an offensive weapon was used by the defendant for work was not necessarily sufficient, unless it could be proven that it was reasonable for the weapon to be carried in the specific circumstances.

The offence of carrying an offensive weapon in a public place imposes a strict liability burden on defendants to prove they have a reasonable excuse for carrying the weapon. The relevant piece of legislation is Clause 139(5)(a) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which states that a person shall have a defence if they can establish they had the offensive weapon with them 'for use at work'.

This specific case involved a man who was found with a butterfly knife in the glove compartment of his car, on a Saturday. In the initial case, the court decided the knife might have been used by the defendant as part of his work as a plumber, electrician and gas engineer. However, he was still convicted of the offence.

The Divisional Court decided that the correct decision had been made, and that evidence that a defendant did in fact use an offensive weapon for work was not in itself determinative as to whether this provided them with a reasonable excuse for carrying it. It was stated that a court should consider whether the use of the weapon for work was credible as well as whether there were any alternative tools (which were not offensive weapons) that could be used to carry out the same function. The example given was a chef using knuckle-dusters to tenderise meat.

The other relevant factor to be considered is whether there is a temporal connection between the time the defendant was found in possession of the weapon and their attendance at work. If a defendant was on their way to or from work this would be pertinent. If there is no temporal connection, a court should consider whether there was a reasonable excuse for them having the weapon – including possibly forgetting to take it out of the car.

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