In May 2023, the Ministry of Justice published sentencing statistics from the end of 2012 to the end of 2022 that set out trends in the cautioning and sentencing of knife and offensive weapon offences in England and Wales.
Analysis of the reported statistics demonstrates the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 onwards on cautioning and sentencing of knife and offensive weapon offences in England and Wales. Additionally, figures in 2022 may have also been impacted in the short term by industrial action taken by the Criminal Bar Association. These impacts should be considered when assessing trends in the last few years since the pandemic. Some of the key statistics noted in the report are as follows:
- The latest figures demonstrate that the number of knife and offensive weapon offences amongst children aged 10-17 have increased by 19% from the year ending December 2012 to December 2022, which is greater than the increase for adults where the number of offences increased by 8%. Despite a general upward trend in the number of offences, there was a slight decrease between 2021 and 2022.
- The proportion of children aged 10-17 years old for whom an offence was their first knife or offensive weapon possession offence decreased from 89% for the year ending 2012 to 80% for 2022.
- The proportion of offenders aged 10-17 receiving an immediate custodial sentence for a knife and offensive weapon offence, decreased from 12% in the year ending December 2019 to 6% in the year ending December 2021. This proportion remained the same at 6% in the year ending December 2022. It is useful to compare these figures with the proportion of children aged 10-17 receiving a community sentence, which was 54% in the year ending 2012 and 2022. Within the period between 2012 and 2022, this percentage remained relatively stable, with fluctuations of only a few percentage points year to year.
- While the average custodial sentence length for adults increased from 7.1 months in 2012 to 7.8 months in 2022, the average custodial sentence length for 10–17 year olds generally decreased from 8.0 months in 2012 to 6.8 months in 2022. However, it should be noted that the figures for 10–17 year olds are more volatile from year to year, given that there are a smaller number of cases than for adults.
Knife crime remains a key issue to tackle in criminal justice policy, as well as in youth justice policy in particular. The statistical data from the last few years has been impacted by restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic such as court closures which has increased court backlogs. Such backlogs continue to affect cases dealt with in the courts and are likely to continue affecting the corresponding sentencing statistics.
When interpreting these statistics, practitioners should bear in mind updates to the court’s discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences only in “exceptional circumstances” for weapon offences committed on or after 28 June 2022. Although these changes appear to limit the court’s discretion to pass non-custodial sentences, the data does not yet seem to reflect an (overall) increase in custodial sentences for these offences.
For a detailed analysis of these updates to the court’s discretion, please see YJLC’s legal update on changes to the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline on Bladed Articles and Offensive Weapons (possession and threats).
Louise Ferdjani and Darius Latham-Koenig, Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP