UK: New Offensive Weapons Bill would not impact right of Sikhs to carry kirpan
London, May 18: A new Offensive Weapons Bill aimed at tackling rising knife crime in the UK completed its journey through Parliament to become an act of law after receiving the Royal Assent of Queen Elizabeth II this week.
The bill had been amended late last year to ensure that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans, or religious swords.
"We have engaged closely with the Sikh community on the issue of kirpans. As a result, we have amended the Bill to ensure that the possession and supply of large kirpans for religious reasons can continue," a UK Home Office spokesperson said.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs had led a delegation to the UK Home Office to ensure that the kirpan remains exempt when the new bill becomes law.
"I am pleased to see the government amendment...which reflects the importance of not criminalising the Sikh community for the sale or possession of large kirpans," said Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, Chair of the APPG for British Sikhs.
The new law would therefore maintain status quo in continuing to legally safeguard the sale, possession and use of large kirpans. Fellow Sikh MP, Tan Dhesi, had also made an intervention during the Offensive Weapons Bill debate in the Commons to seek "assurances about the kirpan, given the Sikh community's serious concerns".
Large kirpans, with blades over 50-cm, are used by the community during religious ceremonies in gurdwaras as well as for ceremonies involving the traditional Sikh Gatka martial art. They would have fallen foul of the new bill on the possession of large blades without the amendment, which has now been agreed. The Offensive Weapons Act covers new offences around possession of certain offensive weapons in public and enforces new restrictions on the online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products in attempt to crackdown on rising knife and acid-related attacks in the country.
"These new laws will give police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons and ensure knives are less likely to make their way onto the streets in the first place. The Act will also see the introduction of Knife Crime Prevention Orders – a power the police called for," said UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
The act is aimed at strengthening existing legislative measures on offensive weapons, focusing on corrosive substances, knives and certain types of firearm. It brings in new laws to ban the sale of corrosive substances to anyone under the age of 18, to target people carrying acid, to make it more difficult for anyone under the age of 18 to buy knives online and to ban certain types of firearms.