Skip to main content

Lords Committee raises doubts about effectiveness of ban on ‘zombie-style’ knives

12 February 2024

The cross-party House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has raised concerns about the Government’s proposals to ban ‘zombie-style’ knives.

The Committee flags its concerns about the Draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) Order 2024 in its latest report, questioning the policy’s likely effectiveness in removing weapons from the streets and reducing crime, as well as its value for money.

The draft Order would introduce a ban on certain types of ‘zombie-style’ knives and machetes, which the police have described as “weapons of choice for youths with criminal intentions”. The Order is intended to plug what the Government describes as a “loophole” in a similar law introduced in 2016, which knife suppliers have evaded by redesigning the weapons. The Committee notes that the Order includes a precise definition of the weapons to be banned which could, again, lead those likely to use the weapons simply to find other types of knife, not subject to the ban, that are equally dangerous.

The draft Order also includes a surrender and compensation regime so that people currently owning these weapons lawfully can hand them in safely and receive back their value. The Committee had a number of concerns about this scheme, including its value for money, as the Home Office expected administration costs of £301,000 to pay out compensation of just £14,000 (with an estimated 472 knives being surrendered). In addition, the combination of a payment per weapon of £10 but a minimum claim of £30 may be inadequate to persuade owners of only one or two knives from surrendering them as they would be unable to claim any payments for doing so.

The Committee also criticise the Government for poor explanatory material on the Order. For example, the initial Explanatory Memorandum did not mention the surrender and compensation scheme. Moreover, the Committee identified a significant error in the press release accompanying the Order, which stated that “anyone in possession of one of these knives will face time behind bars”, when in fact this is not the policy: someone in possession may face time behind bars, depending on factors such as whether or not it is their first offence. The press release was corrected, but only after 12 days. The Committee also question whether the emphasis on custodial punishment in the press release was consistent with the IA’s statement that the impact of the policy on prison places would be “negligible”.

Overall, the Committee questions whether appropriate weight had been given to the impact information in the formulation and design of the policy. The Committee notes recent initiatives under the Better Regulation Framework to give greater weight to consideration of impacts earlier in the policymaking process and concludes that this draft Order may be an example of why such a change is needed.

Lord de Mauley, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said:

“Everyone agrees that zombie-style knives should not be on the streets but it is important that policies in this area are effective and not just headline grabbing.

"We appreciate the difficulty of formulating policy in this very complex area. We have seen previous attempts at banning dangerous knives fall short of their desired outcome because the weapons to be prohibited have been tightly defined and those who wish to own them have simply turned to slightly different designs. The Government has taken a similar approach again and, while we agree with the intention not to outlaw tools held for legitimate use, the Home Office should be vigilant in case other forms of weapon become more prevalent. If that happens, the Government should consider its overall approach.

“We understand that the Government is keen to progress this legislation quickly, but that should not come at the expense of providing full and accurate information to Parliament and the public. Putting out a press release with a significant factual error is simply not acceptable. Moreover, when more comprehensive data on the cost and expected impact of this policy was made available to us, it raised questions about the policy design.

“Overall, we found the explanatory material laid with the draft Regulations did not provide a clear enough picture of the objective of the policy and how it would be implemented in practice.”