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Courts: Offensive Weapons

Volume 482: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what guidance is issued to courts on the action to be taken should a knife be discovered on a person attending a court hearing. (219327)

The powers of court security officers governing the 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 venue 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 a folding pen-knife with a blade of three inches or less is not currently a criminal offence, the court security officers would not normally advise the police of these items being retained. Evidence from one Crown Court is that about 50 per cent. of the pen knives which were seized but later returned because they were within the legal definition belonged to lawyers attending the court.

If a court security officer reasonably believes that a bladed item is evidence of, or in relation to, an offence, such as an illegally carried knife, then they contact the police as soon as possible after the item has been surrendered or seized. The court security officers must provide the police with information about the item, the person carrying it 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 to seek advice from the police.

Items that are lawful to possess, such as folding penknives with the permitted length of blade, are returned when the owner asks for them.

The Courts Act itself gives no power to retain any items beyond either the 24-hour permitted period or the later point when the owner returns to collect it, whether legally or illegally carried. 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.

The policy is being actively reviewed and Her Majesty's Court Service is launching a programme to discourage all court users from bringing any kind of bladed item to court. This includes a vigorous information campaign to all major stakeholders, including volunteer groups, and clear public information displayed in courts. We are also looking at formalising the existing process by which any bladed items that are currently lawful are returned to owners when they leave the court building but in sealed packages, which must be signed for or by post. An incremental rollout of this process to gauge the impact of this covering six courts in England was launched on 1 November and, if this is a success, will be implemented nationally shortly thereafter.