Under section 139 Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is an offence to have any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed in a public place; the definition of ‘public place’ includes courts as a place to which the public have access. It is a defence to prove that a knife is carried for work, religious reasons or as part of a national costume. Section 139 only applies to those folding pen-knives with a blade of more than 3 in so possession of a pen-knife with a blade of this length or less is not an offence under the Act.
The powers of seizure and retention of items, and of exclusion from courts, are derived from sections 53 to 55 of the Courts Act 2003.
All knives, of whatever length, are among those items which Her Majesty’s Courts Service class as prohibited items and are not permitted inside any place where court business takes place. All bladed items must be surrendered to a court security officer and if not willingly surrendered, they may be seized by those officers. If the item is not surrendered or seized, the bearer will be excluded from entry into the court or removed. The police are informed of all offensive weapons surrendered or seized and court security officers follow the advice given by them. As possession of folding pen-knife with a blade of 3 in or less is not an offence, the court security officers would not normally advise the police of these items being retained.
If a court security officer reasonably believes that a bladed item is evidence of, or in relation to, an offence, then they contact the police as soon as possible after the item was surrendered or seized and provide them with information about the item, the person carrying the item and if appropriate, any difficulties they had in obtaining the item.
The court security officer will then follow the advice of the police who may attend, dispose of the item, and take any other appropriate investigative action.
If a person requests the return of an item when he/she leaves the court building, but the court security officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the item may be evidence of, or in relation to an offence, then the person is told that under section 55(2)(b), the officer has the power to retain it for up to 24 hours or until they have sought advice from the police. Items which are lawful to possess, such as folding pen-knives with the permitted length of blade, are returned when the owner asks for them.
The Courts Act itself gives no power to retain articles beyond either the 24-hour permitted period or the later point when the owner returns to collect it. If the police do not collect the item within the permitted period or at any rate before the owner returns to collect it, then the article must be returned.
Policy guidance on all aspects of security, including detailed guidance on the powers and practice of searching, and the seizure of prohibited items, is disseminated through the document Safe and Secure to all staff and contractors. In addition, court security officers receive full training on these powers and are not appointed until assurance is provided that this has been completed satisfactorily.