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Underage Sale of Knives: Introduction of Sentencing Guidelines

03 May 2023
The Sentencing Council has introduced new guidelines relating to the prosecution of both organisations and individuals who supply knives to under 18s.

The new guidelines came into effect on 1 April 2023, meaning that for the first time, Magistrates' Courts will be following specific guidance when prosecuting for this offence, ensuring that a uniform approach to sentencing can be taken across the board. The guidelines apply to retailers who fail to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent the sale of knives to those who are under 18, either in store or online.

The rationale for these guidelines likely relates to the consistently high rates of knife related offences being committed.  In the year ending June 2022, there were 19,448 cases dealt with relating to knives/offensive weapons. This figure has remained fairly constant over the past decade, with knife crime remaining a considerable and ongoing problem within society. Roughly 20% of this figure is made up of those aged 10-17 who are either cautioned or convicted of possessing a knife or threatening another individual with one. 


The guidelines instruct that the Court looks at the offender's culpability and the harm caused with reference to the below factors:

High Culpability includes offenders who failed to put in place measures such as preventative age checks e.g. a Challenge 25 policy, and staff training, or who failed to act on concerns raised by employees or others. It also includes offenders who failed to make appropriate changes after receiving advice. This level of culpability appears to be reserved for offenders who display active disregard of the law.

Medium Culpability applies to instances where measures were in place, but these were not adequately implement or adhered to. This is the 'catch-all' level of culpability for offenders whose conduct/omission is more serious than 'lesser' culpability but not as serious as 'high' culpability.

Lesser Culpability applies to offenders who have made significant efforts to prevent underage sales where not amounting to a defence. This takes into account organisations that had done what was reasonably practicable to prevent underage sales. 

Atypically for sentencing guidelines, there is no further description of different categories of harm to assess the level of harm caused.  Instead, the guidelines state that the harm caused by selling knives to children poses only one level of harm, and that this same level of harm is risked by any sale to a child regardless of other factors. 

The sentence for organisations found guilty of selling knives to under 18s is a fine, the amount of which varies depending on the size and turnover of the organisation. The category ranges for a 'micro' organisation, with a turnover of not more than £2 million begins at as little as £500 and increases to a maximum of £25,000. A 'small' organisation turning over between £2-10million could expect a maximum fine of £400,000.  A 'large' organisation could be in receipt of a £1million fine if they turn over £50 million or more. The guidelines also allow discretion with relation to the size of the company. Companies that are considered to be 'very large' with a considerable turnover can be subject to an increased fine outside of this range that ensures a sentence proportionate to the turnover of the company is reached.  

The Court has also been instructed to ensure that any fine awarded serves a wider purpose above solely punishment, with the other objectives being deterrence and removal of any economic benefit for an organisation. 


The guidelines in relation to individuals are broadly the same as for organisations. The difference lies in the sanctions, where the category ranges are from discharge and a Band B fine (100% of weekly income) for minor breaches, to a medium level community order / Band E fine (600% of weekly income) for the most serious breaches. An individual also has to be in a position of responsibility in order to be liable.

Practical steps

The law around the sale of knives to under 18s has not changed, and this continues to remain illegal. If you are a person in a position of responsibility within an organisation that sells knives, this is an opportunity to review the measures your organisation has in place. The impact of non-compliance with the law is now clear for both businesses and individuals, and it is important to ensure that staff are fully trained and all appropriate age restrictive measures are in place to help prevent future liability. 

DWF's Tier 1 Regulatory, Compliance and Investigations Team has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is here to assist you with any concerns you may have.

If you require any further information regarding the above, then please contact Mark Thompson or Simon Belfield.

We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Lauren Parkinson to this article.

Further Reading