Now that summer has (finally) arrived, our thoughts turn to doing summery things, lazing in the sun, getting caught in bank holiday traffic jams and, of course, that most English of pastimes – the picnic. My thoughts were just turning to the potential dangers of a picnic, such as getting stung by a wasp, bitten by ants, hit by a carelessly kicked football, when I suddenly realised with a shock that there might be another even greater danger – getting arrested for being in possession of a knife.
Most of us take some plates, glasses or beakers and some cutlery with us on a picnic. Many people also take sharp kitchen knives to cut open that pesky cellophane wrapped around the brie or carve off slices of salami, but potentially we could be laying ourselves open to a charge of possession of a bladed article.
It has long been unlawful to possess a knife which is offensive in itself, such as a flick knife, or to use a knife in an offensive manner, for example, pointing it at someone and threatening them with it, but the simple possession of an ordinary kitchen knife has not in itself been unlawful up until the Criminal Justice Act 1988 made a new offence of possession of a bladed article in a public place. This act makes it an offence for any person to have an article which has a blade or is sharply pointed (except a folding pocket knife) in a public place without good reason or lawful authority. It is even unlawful to have a folding pocket knife if the blade exceeds three inches.
The courts have interpreted good reason widely, but not without limit. It is still lawful to carry knives on one’s person but now it is up to that person to prove that they had good reason to carry the knife out in a public place and if they cannot show they had good reason then a conviction will follow. A conviction for an offence of this kind will very often result in a sentence of imprisonment.
Courts have found that putting a knife in, for example, a glove compartment and then forgetting about it can constitute good reason if the intention at the time of putting it in the glove compartment was to return it to its proper place.
If you are tempted to have a picnic this summer and you wish to take a sharp knife with you for use during the picnic then it is important that you keep that knife with the picnic itself, so that knife is clearly identified as being part and parcel of the picnic equipment. To separate the knife, for example, by putting into a door compartment or a glove compartment of the car, would be extremely dangerous as it would tend to suggest to any police officer that the knife was there for a purpose other than a lawful one leading to a likely arrest and probable prosecution.
Jeremy Sirrell is a partner at Palmers Solicitors, specialising in criminal law matters.