The continuing confusion surrounding under-age knife sales has been highlighted by a High Court judge, who has told magistrates that their definition of a grapefruit knife was wrong.
The three magistrates, from Bracknell, Berkshire, had previously decided that a grapefruit knife was not a knife as far as the law was concerned, saying that it had a curved blade, which marked it out from a flat-bladed knife, and that it was designed for a single use. They also said that suppliers described it as a gadget.
However, in the test case, Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, ruled that a grapefruit knife is indeed “a knife”, and cannot therefore be sold to anyone below the age of 18 under the terms of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act – which does not define what is and is not a knife.
Overturning the magistrates’ conclusion that the article was a food preparation gadget, he said: “An article designed for a single use may well be a knife, and some articles that curve may be knives. The suppliers’ understanding is not determinative.”
Special permission had to be obtained to allow the grapefruit knife to be taken into the Royal Courts of Justice in London so that the judge could see it.
The case arose after a member of staff in Windsor department store WJ Daniel sold the knife to a 15-year-old working for trading standards officers last February. The store was subsequently prosecuted.
Speaking after the latest ruling, Windsor and Maidenhead trading standards welcomed the quashing of the magistrates’ decision. Said trading standards and licensing manager Steve Johnson: “From our point of view the legislation is there to stop children acquiring knives in the wider sense.
“If the magistrates’ decision had stood it would have meant young people with malicious intent could have legally gone out and bought sharp-bladed ‘kitchen implements’. It would have set a dangerous precedent.”
The case will now be sent back to the magistrates to consider the store’s defence that it took reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid breaking the law.