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Chamber and committees

Criminal Justice Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Agenda: Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2, Subordinate Legislation


Subordinate Legislation

Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) (Scotland) Order 2022 [Draft]

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is consideration of two affirmative instruments. I welcome to the meeting Ash Regan, Minister for Community Safety, and from the Scottish Government, Philip Lamont, criminal justice division, and Jamie MacQueen, legal directorate.

I refer members to paper 1 and invite the minister to speak to both instruments.

Ash Regan

I will speak to both instruments at the same time in this short opening statement.

The Surrender of Offensive Weapons (Compensation) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 provide the legislative framework for a scheme to allow legitimate owners of certain highly dangerous offensive weapons to hand them in to the police and receive compensation from the Scottish Government for doing so.

The scheme, which follows that of a similar scheme in England and Wales last year, is required, because a change in the law will shortly be implemented that will criminalise the private possession of such highly dangerous offensive weapons. Before that change can be made, legitimate owners have to be given the opportunity to be compensated in order to protect their property rights under human rights law.

The scheme will operate on very similar terms to the scheme operated in England and Wales by the UK Government and police forces down there. There is no requirement to claim compensation and weapons can be simply surrendered without compensation being given. However, if compensation is wanted, a claim form must be filled in and handed to the police at the same time as the weapon is surrendered. The Scottish Government will then process the claim.

Under the regulations, any overall claim must be for at least £30 to ensure that there are no undue costs in administering individual claims. Again, that is the same as the equivalent scheme in England and Wales.

The type of weapons covered include knuckle dusters, hand claws, foot claws and push daggers, all of which have no benign use and already carry with them tight restrictions such as a ban on sale, manufacture and importation. However, some people might have purchased such weapons prior to the restrictions coming in or might have inherited them, and the scheme protects the rights of owners of such weapons while getting the weapons out of circulation and out of harm’s way.

The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) (Scotland) Order 2022 adds what is called a zombie knife to the list of highly dangerous offensive weapons already subject to the restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation. In other words, zombie knives will be treated like knuckle dusters, push daggers and so on and will no longer be able to be sold, manufactured or imported.

The type of weapon called a zombie knife has been developed in recent years following its glamorisation in zombie-type films. Although they are not known to be common in Scotland, we think that it is sensible to add those weapons to the existing list. The order will also allow Scottish ministers to make arrangements for a surrender and compensation scheme for those knives in the same way as I have just set out.

The zombie knives scheme is required for the same reasons as the scheme under the 2022 regulations. In other words, it is required to protect the property rights of legitimate owners, as was done in England and Wales by the UK Government.

From the perspective of members of the public, there will be just one overall scheme. It will run from 1 July to 30 September this year for zombie knives and the other weapons covered by the regulations. Once that has happened, the Scottish Government will proceed to commence the new law, which makes it an offence to possess those weapons in private.

Thank you, minister. Do members have any questions?

What is the legal definition of a “zombie knife”?

I ask Philip Lamont to answer that question.

Philip Lamont (Scottish Government)

It is defined as having a serrated or jagged edge, with wording. The definition is included in the regulations, but it is based on the definition used by the UK Government in its legislation. I do not have it in front of me, but that is the definition that is used. As I have said, it is set out in the regulations, but it is based on the English and Welsh definition.

I am asking partly out of curiosity but also to get confirmation that there is a pre-existing definition.

The definition used mirrors the one provided in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019.

Jamie Greene

When I read the papers, it was my understanding that the order was intended simply to include so-called zombie knives, as defined, to the list of offensive weapons. However, the impression that I got from the minister’s opening statement is that this is actually a wider exercise and that there will be a more general amnesty for knives and weapons. That might not be understood outside this room. Minister, can you clarify whether we are opening up a wider amnesty for knives and weapons, in which members of the public can go to a police station with something that they think might or might not be a weapon and deposit it safely in return for a promise of no prosecution and possible compensation? The public should be aware of that.

Secondly, what public awareness work will the Government carry out to ensure that people know that that is happening?

Ash Regan

There are two instruments in front of you, the first of which provides a legal framework to allow certain offensive weapons to be handed in to the police. The member is right that compensation can be sought in return, but we have to do this ahead of the change in the law that is coming into force in a few months’ time and which will criminalise the possession of certain offensive weapons in a private setting. That is the new part of the law, but in order to bring it in, we must provide a compensation scheme.

I can go through the weapons that are listed for the committee, but the list is very long. In any case, all the knives and weapons that are affected by the instrument are listed so, if the member is interested, he can check what they are.

We want to get those weapons out of circulation, and we are encouraging the public to go to a police station at a designated time. However, they should check that their local police station is the right place to hand weapons in. They can be handed in at certain times of day, and there will be certain ways in which people can do so.

The second instrument just adds zombie knives to the list of weapons affected. There are two separate instruments, but they operate as one to all intents and purposes.

We intend to publicise the scheme. I ask Philip Lamont—who has now reached the right page of his briefing—to explain how we will do that.

Philip Lamont

When the scheme opens on 1 July—it will not happen before then—we will put information about it on the website. That will set out exactly what people have to do and will also include the claim form. We will also put out a press release and use social media. However, we do not want to do that before 1 July, because we do not want to create confusion about when the scheme will operate.

Jamie Greene

Initially, there was some confusion in England when zombie knives were added to the list, because there was a perception that the move applied to any form of serrated knife. Indeed, there was confusion among police officers, with some of the unions asking how they would go about enforcing that. For example, a person might have one of these knives at home; although the knife itself might never leave the house, it would now be an offence to have it at all. Under the definition, not only did the knife have to be serrated but it had to be demonstrated that it was to be used for an act of violence or it had to have markings on it.

Philip Lamont


Jamie Greene

It just seems a bit vague. I am worried that people might be alerted to—and alarmed by—things that they might have in their house that it is now illegal for them to have in their house. How might you address those concerns?

Philip Lamont

We can pay special attention to raising awareness of the zombie knives issue. You are right to say that there have been one or two issues with the definition, which, as I have said, is the English and Welsh definition. It is quite a challenge to give exact definitions of different types of weapons. We are not aware of any major issues arising in England and Wales, but I do not doubt that there might have been some issues with understanding exactly what is and is not a zombie knife. We can ensure that our awareness raising highlights that as an issue.

The Convener

As there are no more questions, I invite the minister to move the motions.

Motions moved,

That the Criminal Justice Committee recommends that the Surrender of Offensive Weapons (Compensation) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 [draft] be approved.

That the Criminal Justice Committee recommends that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) (Scotland) Order 2022 [draft] be approved.—[Ash Regan]

Motions agreed to.

Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (Prescribed Documents) (Scotland) Order 2022 (SSI 2022/148)

The Convener

Agenda item 4 is consideration of a negative instrument. I refer members to paper 2.

If members have no questions, is the committee content not to make any recommendations to the Parliament on the instrument?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

Thank you. That concludes today’s meeting. Our next meeting will be on Wednesday 8 June, when our main item of business will be consideration of stage 2 amendments to the justice provisions in the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill.

I now close the meeting.

Meeting closed at 13:27.