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Violent crime

Violent crime covers a variety of offences – ranging from common assault to murder. It also encompasses the use of weapons such as firearms, knives and corrosive substances like acid.

Murder and manslaughter are crimes where one person unlawfully kills another. Both offences can be described as homicide.

The crime of murder is committed where a sane person unlawfully kills another person with intent to kill or cause serious injury. It is not considered to be unlawful killing if there is a reasonable justification, for example self-defence.

Manslaughter can be committed in one of three ways:

  • where a person has been intentionally killed but it is not treated as murder because there is loss of control (previously “provocation”), diminished responsibility or a suicide pact
  • when death is the result of behaviour that is grossly negligent 
  • where death is caused by an unlawful and dangerous act

There are other specific homicide offences, for example, infanticide (the intentional killing of an infant) and causing death by dangerous or careless driving. 

Acid and other corrosive substances, such as bleach or ammonia, may be used as weapons.

Acid and corrosive substance attacks have a devastating effect on victims.  The long-term consequences of acid or corrosive substance attacks may include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, and social or psychological difficulties.

The most appropriate charges are likely to be drawn from the following:

  • Throwing (or applying) corrosive fluid on a person with intent to burn, maim, disfigure or disable or to do some grievous bodily harm (section 29 Offences against the Person Act 1861) - maximum sentence: life; 
  • Possession of an offensive weapon (section 1 Prevention of Crime Act 1953) - 4 years’ maximum imprisonment; 
  • Possession of offensive weapon on school premises (section 139A(2) Criminal Justice Act 1988) - 4 years' maximum imprisonment; 
  • Threatening with an offensive weapon in a public place (section 1A Prevention of Crime Act 1953) - 4 years' maximum imprisonment; 
  • Threatening with an offensive weapon on school premises or in a public place (section 139AA Criminal Justice Act 1988) - 4 years' maximum imprisonment; 
  • Causing grievous bodily harm with intent (section 18 Offences against the Person Act 1861) - maximum sentence: life.

Assaulting, or physically hurting another person, can lead to a number of different criminal charges. When deciding on the appropriate charge, prosecutors and police officers will consider how seriously the victim has been injured, the offender’s culpability in committing the offence and the likely sentence that the court will pass.

Three different offences can be considered, depending on the level of injuries involved. These different offences will also lead to different possible sentences if a person is found guilty.

  • Common Assault – where there is no injury, or injuries are not serious. It carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or a fine.
  • Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) – where there is serious injury. ABH carries a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment in the magistrates’ court, and five years' in the Crown Court and/or an unlimited fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
  • Inflicting Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) or wounding – The offence of inflicting GBH is where there is a really serious injury, and it carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. 
  • Causing GBH or wounding with intent to cause GBH – where there is really serious injury, and an intention to cause GBH. The offence of causing GBH with intent carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The UK has a wide range of laws which restrict the use and possession of guns and knives, as well as other offensive weapons. It is an offence to use a gun or knife to harm or threaten another person, and also to own, carry, manufacture or trade certain prohibited weapons.

The maximum sentence for importing or exporting a prohibited weapon or ammunition is life imprisonment.

The Firearms Act 1968 includes more than 50 offences related to different categories of weapons, including firearms, prohibited weapons, shot guns, air weapons and imitation firearms.

There are a number of knife crime-related offences, including possession in any public place of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or excuse.

  • In recent years, additional laws have been passed which create arrange of additional offences, including:
  • converting imitation firearms into functioning firearms
  • manufacturing or selling realistic imitation firearms, or bringing them into Great Britain 
  • modifying an imitation firearm to make it realistic.


There is specific guidance for how the criminal justice system will deal with young people involved in knife crime.

The first arrest of a youth of any age for possession of an offensive weapon or sharply pointed blade, with aggravating factors, (circumstances of possession, fear caused, degree of danger) will result in a charge.

The first arrest of a youth of aged 16 years or over, for simple possession of an offensive weapon or sharply pointed blade, with no aggravating factors will normally result in a charge.

The first arrest of a youth aged under 16 years for simple possession of an offensive weapon or sharply pointed blade, with no aggravating factors, where the offence has been admitted will result, in the first instance with a Youth Conditional Caution.  A youth conditional caution allows an authorised person (usually a police officer) or a relevant prosecutor (usually a member of the CPS) to decide to give a caution with one or more conditions attached. (link through to the Director’s guidance on YCCs.)

This must be supported by an appropriate Youth Offending Team intervention, preferably with elements focussed on anti-knife crime education.  For a youth under 16 years, an out of court disposal which is not a Youth Caution or a Youth Conditional Caution should not be used.

The second arrest of a youth under 16 for simple possession of an offensive weapon or sharply pointed blade will result in a charge (unless, in exceptional circumstances, two years have passed, the offence has been admitted)and it is considered appropriate to give another youth conditional caution, whether or not there are aggravating features.

The new offence of threatening a person in public or on school premises will result in a youth aged 16 or over going straight to charge, as this offence carries a minimum sentence of a four months Detention and Training Order and therefore should not be dealt with using an out of court disposal.

Section 28 of and Schedule 5 to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 create a minimum custodial sentence for those aged 16 and over convicted of a second or subsequent offence of possession of a knife or offensive weapon,  The minimum custodial sentence for 16 and 17 year olds is at least a four month detention and training order.

Weapons amnesties 

From time to time, police forces may hold firearms amnesties where they will not arrest or initiate a prosecution against people who surrender unlawfully held guns, knives, or other prohibited weapons.

These amnesties usually last for a short period of time and are intended to help reduce the criminal use of firearms. They may also be held if new laws are being introduced which will make it an offence to possess a weapon that was not previously prohibited.

These provisions will rarely, if ever, extend to those committing offences which involve the criminal use of firearms.

Robbery is an offence with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The offence is committed when someone steals from another person, while either threatening or using force against the victim. 

Further reading

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