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Knife Crime Prevention Orders: A Life Saving Measure or a Step Too Far?7th September 2021 Criminal Defence
You have probably heard that knife crime is on the rise, it’s quite hard to miss with all the attention grabbing headlines in the press.
The numbers are shocking. Already this year there have been 17 deaths of teenagers from knives in London alone. Most recently the country reacted with horror to the death of James Markham, who was stabbed to death outside his home. The alleged assailant, who has been charged with murder, is a 14 year old boy.
This upward trend has in turn led to increasing public anxiety about knife crime, which prompted the Conservative government, in particular the tough talking Home Secretary Priti Patel, to take action. This comes in the form of Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs).
These orders are currently being piloted in London to monitor their success and assess whether the regime should be implemented nationwide.
What is a KCPO?
- KCPOs can be given when a person is convicted of a criminal offence. The court must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the defendant has committed an offence that involves violence, the threat of violence, and/or that a bladed article was used or carried by the defendant.
- If a KCPO is made other than on conviction the court must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that, on at least two occasions in the relevant period, the defendant had bladed articles with them in a public place, on school premises or on further education premises, without good reason or lawful authority.
- Regardless of whether the KCPO is made on conviction the court is required to consider whether it is necessary to make the order to protect the public generally or particular persons.
- Orders can remain in place for a maximum of 2 years.
- If the order is breached then this is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 2 years if convicted.
What happens if you get a KCPO?
If a KCPO is made then the court will decide what combination of requirements, both positive and negative, to impose on the individual.
The positive requirements include:
- Educational courses
- Life skills programmes
- Sporting participation
- Awareness raising courses
- Targeted Intervention programmes
- Relationship counselling
- Drug rehabilitation programmes
- Anger management classes
The negative requirements include:
- Prevention from entering an exclusion zone
- Non-association with other individuals
- Non-participation in particular activities
- Being in a particular place between particular time on any given days or times
- Preventing the defendant from using or having particular articles with them
- Using the internet to facilitate or encourage crime involving bladed articles
Why is the KCPO proving to be so divisive?
At first blush the KCPO regime might not seem to be that controversial. There is strong support for the orders from some quarters, especially from those who have been affected personally by knife crime, as they want to see serious action taken to prevent knife crime being committed. The tabloid press have regularly called upon the government to take strong measures against offenders.
The police have said that they believe that these orders will reduce knife-related deaths and provide a positive intervention in those whose lives may result in them engaging in knife crime.
However, there has been a backlash against the introduction of these orders. Multiple organisations have spoken out against the provision, including No More Exclusion, the National Association for Youth Justice and the Ben Kinsell Trust.
One element of KCPOs that is a subject of debate is the use of a civil standard of proof. This means a court has to consider it ‘more likely than not’ that a defendant has done something warranting the imposition of an order, whereas in criminal cases the standard of proof is higher.
The outcry in response to this focuses on the use of the civil standard in a criminal setting, which seemingly disregards a central tenet of British justice – the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The lower standard of proof applied means that it is more likely that KCPOs will be made in the first place and, from this point onwards, there is a higher risk of further criminalisation as a result of breaching the order.
The age of people who can be subject to a KCPO is also a contentious issue. Under the new KCPO regime children as young as 12 can be subject to an order and potential imprisonment.
Arguably, this creates further potential for disadvantaged children to be criminalised, which may lead to long-term obstacles in their future such as reoffending and/or difficulty in obtaining employment. Sarah Jones MP has called the potential for a 12 year old to be sent to prison for two years a disproportionate reaction to the issue of knife crime.
Another fear is that KCPOs will negatively target minorities, in particular the black community. KCPOs give police officers the power to stop people who they believe are carrying knives, which compliments existing stop and search orders. Multiple studies have shown that these powers disproportionately impact on the black community, who are 19 times more likely to be stopped.
The pilot is being led by the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force, who have addressed these concerns by confirming that an equalities assessment has been carried out to mitigate the risk of racial profiling. The effectiveness and impact of the regime will be monitored with the help of experts from Cambridge University and University College London, including speaking to stakeholder groups and recipients of orders themselves. The question is, will this be enough?
For now, it seems like KCPOs are here to stay. The government have issued statements that the orders are ‘preventative not punitive’. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case in practise. Whatever the outcome there will those who continue to question whether KCPOs adequately address the root cause of the problem, or unfairly criminalise young people and disadvantaged groups.