Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the order before us today adds zombie knives, zombie killer knives and zombie slayer knives to the list of offensive weapons by amending the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988.
The purpose of the order is to maintain public safety. Restricting the supply of weapons which can be used in violent crime or to create a fear of violence is a matter of public concern, which is why the Government are taking this action. Before setting out further details about the order and what action the Government are taking, I will briefly explain why it is necessary to tackle zombie knives.
We are concerned about the availability of these weapons, which can be purchased for as little as £10, have an aesthetic appeal to young men and have no practical use. In 2015, Stefan Appleton, a young man of 17, was murdered with a zombie knife marketed as a “renegade zombie killer machete/head decapitator”.
The Government believe that although the number of sales is relatively low, these weapons have a disproportionate effect because their appearance both creates a fear of violence in law-abiding members of the public and glamorises violence for those to whom these types of knives appeal. The police advise that they are often used as status symbols by gangs in videos inciting violence, and have asked that they are banned.
Unlike other types of knife, zombie knives have no legitimate purpose. They are designed for the purpose of violence and creating a fear of violence, and the way they are marketed, using names such as “headsplitter”, “decapitator”, “skullsplitter”, “chopper” or “executioner”, clearly demonstrates the purposes for which they are intended. Many of the knives are also painted in a way that suggests blood on the handle or blade. These knives pose a danger to the young men themselves and to wider society.
With that background in mind, I turn to the details of the order. Under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is an offence to manufacture, sell, hire, offer for sale or hire, or expose or possess for the purposes of sale or hire, a weapon specified in an order made under that section. The importation of any such weapon is also prohibited. The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment.
The order does not provide for the possession of these weapons to be a criminal offence, but the possession of an article with a blade or point in a public place or school premises without good reason or lawful excuse is a criminal offence under Sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, as is the possession of an offensive weapon in a public place by virtue of Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953.
The Government want to add zombie knives to those weapons that are prohibited by order. This will be achieved by using the order-making powers in Section 141(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to add these knives to the list of offensive weapons to which the section applies. These weapons are defined as:
“the weapon sometimes known as a ‘zombie knife’, ‘zombie killer knife’ or ‘zombie slayer knife’, being a blade with … a cutting edge … a serrated edge; and … images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence”.
I hope noble Lords will agree that this order should proceed. It will prevent these weapons being used in violent crime or to instil a fear of violence. I therefore commend the order to the Committee and I beg to move.
My Lords, I had never heard of these weapons before I looked at this order a couple of days ago. The descriptions in the Explanatory Notes and impact assessment are truly dreadful, and I am grateful to the Minister for showing me a picture of one of these knives a few minutes ago. I am very happy to support a complete ban on the manufacture, import, sale, hire, and offer for sale or hire of these weapons. The names—zombie knives, zombie killer knives and zombie slayer knives—are just dreadful.
The impact assessment makes it very clear that the benefits outweigh the costs, even in simple monetary terms, but what we are talking about here is not just money but serious injury to human beings and the killing of human beings with these awful weapons. There is no monetary figure you can put on that. If one life is saved or one serious injury prevented by introducing this ban, it will be a step well worth taking, and I am very happy to support the order.