Knives and the law

In this article we are going to look at the legalities of knives because they are our main tool when out bushcrafting and sometimes the issue is a bit fuzzy and there is a lot of misinformation doing the rounds.

I have heard a number of stories over the years from people and students on courses that ‘if it’s not a fixed blade knife you can carry it’ or ‘if the blade is under x inches its ok’. But the simple fact of the matter is in Ireland it is ILLGEAL to carry a knife of any size shape or form without due reason for carrying it at that time and in that location, this includes pen knives and Leatherman’s with a blade on it. Now what does this mean?

There are certain provisions covered under law that allow you to have a knife on your person for either recreation or for work and the application of the law falls on the discretion of the Garda that is enforcing it. The law is in some ways quite vague and in researching this I decided to get a real world perspective on how this is applied so I called into my local Garda station and asked them to clarify for me how it all works. Now it all boils down to having a valid reason for having a knife on your person in whatever situation that it might be. So for example if you are a carpet fitter and you use a Stanley knife for trimming carpets this is a valid reason to have a Stanley knife on your belt walking around the office block where you are fitting carpets but not to have a bowie knife on your belt as you do it. If you are a fisherman you have a valid reason to have a gutting/utility knife on your belt as your fishing beside the river, but you would not have a valid reason to have a knife on your belt as you walk through town to get your sandwich on the way to the river. In terms of bushcraft how does all of this apply to us? Well again it’s all quite logical and putting a little bit of thought into the situation can save you from an awkward conversation with a Garda or possibly a lot of trouble.

The onus is on you to prove you had a valid reason and no malicious intentions and convictions under ‘section III of the offensive weapons act’ can carry a fine of up to €1000 and 1-5 years in prison! If you’re out on a camp and you’re not going to be bumping into people you are pretty much ok, but as soon as you start coming into contact with the general public you need to think about what you’re doing and how you carrying a knife will be perceived. Ask yourself a few simple questions like ‘Do I need to have this knife on my belt when I go trekking today or can I leave it in camp or in my bag? ’ ‘How does it look to that nice family over there when a smelly, muddy bushcrafter comes out of the bushes with a knife on his belt?’ While you might have a valid reason the sight of a knife could upset some sensibilities and if this can be avoided all the better for us. When travelling to and from your camp make sure your knife is properly secured in its sheath and put out of reach in your rucksack always remembering to take it off your belt (before you pop in to the shops on the way home and have to leave your basket in the middle of the aisle whilst you scurry out to the car park, the security guard glaring at you looking like a shop lifter pulling your jumper over your sheath to avoid it being seen!).

As best practice work off having your knife removed from use by a number of steps, so for example I would have my knife in its sheath, in rucksack, in the boot of my car, or in its sheath in my bag in the glove box. This means it is not quickly accessible or on show and you have put in place steps to show it is not intended for malicious use. Below I have attached a copy of the relevant section of the ‘Firearms and offensive weapons act’ for you to look at and there is a link in the links section of this site to the website of the Irish statute book also.

Knife law is defined in the firearm and offensive weapons act of 1990. PART III OFFENSIVE WEAPONS PART III Offensive Weapons Possession of knives and other articles.

9.—(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), where a person has with him in any public place any knife or any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed, he shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2), it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that he had the article with him for use at work or for a recreational purpose.

(4) Where a person, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (the onus of proving which shall lie on him), has with him in any public place - (a) Any flick-knife, or (b) Any other article whatsoever made or adapted for use for causing injury to or incapacitating a person, He shall be guilty of an offence.

(5) Where a person has with him in any public place any article intended by him unlawfully to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate any person either in a particular eventuality or otherwise, he shall be guilty of an offence.

(6) In a prosecution for an offence under subsection (5), it shall not be necessary for the prosecution to allege or prove that the intent to cause injury, incapacitate or intimidate was intent to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate a particular person; and if, having regard to all the circumstances (including the type of the article alleged to have been intended to cause injury, incapacitate or intimidate, the time of the day or night, and the place), the court (or the jury as the case may be) thinks it reasonable to do so, it may regard possession of the article as sufficient evidence of intent in the absence of any adequate explanation by the accused.

(7) (a) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months or to both.

(b) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (4) or (5) shall be liable— (i) On summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months or to both, or (ii) On conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both.

(8) In this section “public place” includes any highway and any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise, and includes any club premises and any train, vessel or vehicle used for the carriage of persons for reward.

(9) In this section “flick-knife” means a knife— (a) Which has a blade which opens when hand pressure is applied to a button, spring, lever or other device in or attached to the handle, or (b) Which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force and when released is locked in an open position by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1990/en/act/pub/0012/sec0009.html#zza12y1990s9