March 2022 statistics on Cautioning and Sentencing of Knife and Offensive Weapon Offences

Knife and offensive weapon sentencing statistics: year ending March 2022

Published in August 2022, statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice (“MoJ”) outline the trends in the number of offenders receiving cautions and convictions for possession of a knife or other offensive weapon in England and Wales.  The statistics show a clear trend towards fewer custodial sentences being passed.  In the year ending March 2022, 30% of convictions resulted in a custodial sentence (being the lowest proportion since 2014).  The MoJ continues to assess levels and sentences for knife crimes as court activity continues to recover post-pandemic.  In particular, the statistics show that Courts are making exceptions to the minimum sentencing provisions applicable to children aged between 16 and 17.

Details

The MoJ notes that the statistics published continue to be influenced by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; the numbers of knife and offensive weapon offences dealt with by the Criminal Justice System were steadily increasing each year between 2013 and 2019, however, during lockdown, these numbers dropped significantly (by around 14%) in response to pandemic-related restrictions.  Cases have been picking up again in the last year, but have still not recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The report covers the following points in relation to young offenders:

  • The total number of offences committed by offenders aged between 10-17 years old in the year ending March 2022 was 3,490.  Although only a slight decrease from 3,544 the previous year, it represents a larger decrease from 4,437 since March 2020.  The last time the total number of offences for this age bracket was below 4,000 was the year ending March 2016.
  • There has been a general decrease over the past ten years in the proportion of juvenile offenders for whom it was their first knife-related offence, from 89% in the year ending March 2012 to 82% in the year ending March 2022.  The number of offenders with no previous knife and offensive weapon convictions hit a low in 2020 but has begun to rise again in most recent records.  Nevertheless, first-time offenders still represent a very high proportion of juveniles committing knife-related offences.
  • The proportion of offenders receiving immediate custodial sentences decreased from around 37%-38% between the year ending March 2018 and the year ending March 2020, dropping to 30% in the year ending March 2022.  The average immediate custody length for 10-17-year-olds was 6.8 months. 
  • Under section 315 of the Sentencing Act 2020 (formerly section 28 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015), a court is obliged to impose a minimum custodial sentence on an offender committing a second or subsequent offence involving possession of a knife or offensive weapon, unless it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.  For 16-17 year-old offenders sentenced under this section in the year ending 2022, the average custody length was 6.2 months and 32% received an immediate custodial sentence.  This figure was 50% in the year ending March 2020, which fell to 33% in the year ending March 2021, but this figure stabilised in 2022.

Commentary

Clearly, the impacts of COVID-19 on court proceedings such as court closures, remote hearings and prioritisation of other cases, must be taken into account, notably when interpreting the lower numbers of cases, convictions and sentences in the years ending 2020 and 2021. 

It is helpful for practitioners to have an awareness of the most recent trends with respect to knife crime and the latest statistics available relating to young offenders.  Whilst legislation sets out that a minimum custodial sentence must be given to repeat offenders, the Courts are clearly taking the proviso which enables them to make an exception to the mandatory minimum sentence of a 4  month DTO for repeat offenders where there is evidence to persuade them that “that there are particular circumstances relating to the offence, any previous relevant offence or the young person which make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances”. This is an important reminder of the impact that strong mitigation representations can have.  Nevertheless, there has been some public outcry in relation to this as the Independent’s article “Almost half of repeat knife carriers not jailed despite government pledge” demonstrates.

 

Written by Charlotte Rice, Associate lawyer, Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP