UK Knife Law

There are a number of Acts concerning the possession and carrying of knives, axes, saws and other sharp objects and this page aims to highlight the relevant points of law with reference to the practise of bushcraft and survival skills and more importantly, help you stay within the law. 

The Acts Relating to Sharp Objects, Knives, Saws and Axes 

Violent Crime Reduction Act (2006)
Banned the sales of knives to those under 18. 

Knives Act (1997)
Prohibited the sale of combat knives. 

Offensive Weapons Act (1996)
Prohibited the sale of knives to the under 16 year of age.  

Criminal Justice Act (1988)
Published a list of prohibited martial arts style weapons and made it an offence to carry an article with a blade or sharp point in a public place. 

Criminal Damage Act (1971)
(1)   A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence. 

(2)   A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property, whether belonging to himself or another— 

(a) intending to destroy or damage any property or being reckless as to whether any property would be destroyed or damaged; and 

(b) intending by the destruction or damage to endanger the life of another or being reckless as to whether the life of another would be thereby endangered. 

shall be guilty of an offence 

3)   An offence committed under this section by destroying or damaging property by fire shall be charged as arson. 

Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (1959)

Banned the carrying, manufacture, sale, purchase, hire or lending of flick-knives and “gravity knives.” 

Prevention of Crime Act (1953)
Made it an offence to have an offensive weapon in a public place: including any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to any person. 

The Legal Bit
It is currently against the law to carry a knife in any public place, without lawful authority or good reason, except if it is folding pocket knife (i.e one in which the blade cannot be locked) with a cutting edge of less than 3 inches. 

There are two definitions in the above sentence that require further clarification and these ‘Public Place’ and ‘Lawful Authority or Good Reason’ and these are explained further below. 

Public Place
This can loosely be defined as anywhere the public have a legitimate right to be whether this access is paid for or not. Examples of a public place could be 

  • A Wilderness Gathering;
  • National Parks;
  • Forestry Commission land open to the public;
  • Public footpaths;
  • Bridleways; and
  • Any area where you do not have to ask permission to walk.

Lawful Authority or Good Reason
The burden of proving Lawful Authority lies with the defendant and in doing so it is likely that you will need to prove the following (sometimes known as the THIS list): 

  • Has THIS person got permission;
  • To use THIS article;
  • For THIS use;
  • On THIS land; and
  • By THIS land owner.

Good Reason will be decided by the Courts but provided it was for use at work (caretaker), religious reasons or it was part of a national costume then good reason exists. However, just incase I needed it is unlikely to stand up in court. 

If  You Have to Carry A Knife, Axe or Saw

On foot in a public place
Not on a belt or around the neck. 
Bottom of the rucksack – not in the lid or at the top.

By car 
Not in a glove compartment.
Not within reach from seats where driver or passengers are sitting – treat knives like firearms.

By train and bus 
Not on a belt or around the neck. 
Bottom of the rucksack – not in the lid or at the top.

By plane 
CAA rules dictate that a knife, saw or axe may be carried in the hold luggage but not hand luggage.  Some airlines have their own policy on what may or may not be carried. 

What Happens if You Fall Foul of the Law

You are likely to be arrested, charged and then have to appear in court. If you are found guilty the maximum sentence is £5,000 or up to 4 years in prison. Often the worst is yet to come – loss of job and friends etc.

Top Tips To Stay Within the Law

If all this seems a bit daunting then the advice below should help you stay within the law. 

  1. Try not to carry  a knife, saw or axe at all.
  2. Remember that ‘Just in case I need it’ is not an excuse that will work in a court of law.
  3. Reasonable and practical cause to carry.
  4. Carry a knife that is not aggressive looking.
  5. Ensure that you have permission to carry a knife if you are on private property.
  6. Try to have written documentation or proof that you need / needed to carry the knife.
  7. Whilst in a public place, if you need to carry a sharp object, make it inaccessible as possible.
  8. Do not hide the knife under your shirt.
  9. If you are 18, don’t carry a knife in public at all.
  10. Use a knife that is relevant to the activity you wish to carry out.



3 Responses to UK Knife Law

  1. marc droll says:

    Great summary on the very difficult area of knife law in the UK.

    Seems to be a very popular pub subject but not many people seem to understand what the law actually states. Definitely worth having a good read to ensure that ones stays on the right side of the law.

  2. M Taylor says:

    I have a licence to stalk deer in the public forest. Generally I carry a gralloching knife and drop point sheath knife on my belt which is hidden beneath my jacket. I am also carrying a full bore rifle. Surely I don’t need to put my knives in the bottom of roe sack to remain legal.
    I do feel that our law makers have lost the art of making sensible law

    • chris says:

      The law on knifes is a quite complex in that you have to have ‘good reason’ to carry a knife in a public place. However, in your case as a licenced deer stalker, operating with the appropriate permissions it would be reasonable for you to be carrying a knife as part of your work but ultimately, the courts will decide what is good reason should an incident arise. I hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *