All law is complicated, but UK knife law is not only complicated, but misleading. It is also subject to change, at any moment, for almost any reason. Due to the rising statistics of knife crime in the United Kingdom (at the hands of people that are not law abiding in the first place), our Government has made it very difficult to own or use a knife in any circumstance whatsoever.
It’s not their fault. Successive UK Governments have failed to impress us on so many levels that they routinely make knee jerk reactions to solve a ‘current’ problem or please a single issue group, and end up upsetting the entire population into the bargain. Sometimes, I think it would be better if they were corrupt, because they’re just… inept, and that’s not a good look.
“It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches.” Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 139. Read the whole thing here.
Here, the phrase “lawful authority” refers mainly to the Emergency Services, and if you are a member of them then you already know the rules. However, “good reason” is used to denote civilians that use a bladed tool or knife in the course of their business; for example carpenters or chefs. This rule also covers religious / ceremonial costume such as the Scottish ‘sgian dubh’, a knife worn on the calf.
Also, the term “public place” is duplicitous. Of course, your town’s local High Street is a public place, but the term also refers to “private” places that the public can access. Even a “private” campsite that members of the public have arranged access to is recognised as a Public Place once the public arrive. You could still own and use a knife there, but you fall under the “good reason” clause. Just, “dude, we’re camping here” won’t cut it (excuse the pun).
Read it again: “…except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches.”
The exception was included (Section 139) because it was recognised that some knifes are carried just for general use and not for overtly criminal reasons. When written, it was a ‘common sense’ rule. Nowadays, in the age of PC and litigation, the concept of common sense has to be defended. Now, even a locking blade knife of under 3″ can be regarded as an offensive weapon if it is carried for that reason. It is up to you, the defendant, to prove that you were carrying the blade for a “good reason” and you may be sure that you are guilty until proven innocent.
As you can see, it is very easy to fall foul of the knife law in the UK. You could be alone on a private campsite, forgotten knife in your pocket from a day cutting wild flowers, and you can be arrested and charged for carrying an offensive , bladed weapon in public without good reason. That’s a minimum five years in prison.