Law Report: 6 February 1998; Lockable folding pocket knife is a bladed article

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A folding pocket knife which was capable of being locked open was a bladed article for the purposes of section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Regina v Deegan; Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Justice Waller, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Sullivan) 4 February 1998

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of Desmond Garcia Deegan against his conviction at Harrow Crown Court on his plea of guilty, following a ruling by the judge, to possessing a bladed article in a public place contrary to section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

The appellant had been stopped by police officers and had been found to be in possession of a pocket knife which was capable of being opened and locked into an open position, and equally capable of being folded once the mechanism had been operated to unlock the blade. He was charged with an offence under section 139 of the Act, and originally pleaded not guilty. He changed his plea, however, after the judge had ruled that he was bound by two decisions of the Divisional Court, namely Harris v DPP and Fehmi v DPP (1993) 96 Cr App R 235, and that the interpretation placed on a bladed article in those cases applied to the bladed article found in the appellant's possession.

The judge discharged the appellant absolutely, and certified that the matter was fit for appeal.

Benjamin Hargreaves (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; Ian Leist (Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown.

Lord Justice Waller said that section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provided:

(1) . . . any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence. (2) Subject to sub- section (3) below, this section applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocket knife. (3) This section applied to a folding pocket knife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds three inches.

The Divisional Court had held in Harris v DPP and Fehmi v DPP that to be "a folding pocket knife" the blade had to be readily and immediately foldable at all times simply by the folding process. A knife which on opening automatically locked and could not be folded until a button had been pressed was not "a folding pocket knife".

Counsel for the appellant had sought to persuade the court that the conditions of Pepper v Hart [1993] AC 593 were applicable so as to make admissible ministerial statements made whilst the Bill which ultimately became the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was being debated in Parliament, and that the court should accordingly look at certain passages in Hansard, which, he submitted, clearly showed that the type of knife carried by the appellant was intended to be excluded from the section.

Without objection from the Crown the court had examined the material from Hansard de bene esse. However, it was important to establish whether the conditions in Pepper v Hart had been complied with so as to make the material admissible. One of those conditions was that the ministerial statements relied upon were clear.

Although in one sense the statements the court had examined were clear, in that the ministers had clearly thought that they were excluding from section 139 not just pocket knives which fitted the Divisional Court's interpretation of "folding", but some which "locked" when open, they were not clear in the sense required by Pepper v Hart. That was because "locking pocket knives" was itself an ambiguous phrase.

In those circumstances the conditions of Pepper v Hart had not been fulfilled, and it was not legitimate for the court to take the ministerial statements into account. Furthermore, to construe the phrase "folding pocket knife" differently from the way in which the Divisional Court had construed it would be impermissible.

- Kate O'Hanlon, Barrister

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