Underage knife sales could cost retailers up to £1m

Company: Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

New sentencing guidelines relating to underage knife sales have been published and are due to come into effect on April 1, 2023. Ashley Borthwick, a lawyer at international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, explains the potential impact for retailers.

Under new guidelines published this month (available here), large UK retailers will now face fines of up to £1 million in respect of underage knife sales. The guideline explains that the fine "must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law".

It is unlawful to sell knives to under 18s either in stores or online, unless you took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid doing so. Until now, the amount of any fine or penalty imposed following an underage sale had been left to the court's discretion. This resulted in concerns that the fines were too low, which did not reflect the seriousness of the offence.

Significant increase in the amount of fines

The new sentencing guidelines, published for both organisations and individuals, set out a more structured approach in keeping with other regulatory offences. It seems inevitable that there will be a significant increase in the amount of fines imposed for all retailers, both large and small. 

The most significant change for retailers is that the level of fine will directly relate to their gross turnover. For example, the suggested range of fine for retailers with a turnover of £50 million or more, is between £200,000 and £1 million, in the most serious circumstances where appropriate measures were not in place to prevent underage sales from happening.

Individuals may also be prosecuted and could potentially face a community order or, in the most serious cases, a fine of up to 700% of their relevant weekly income.

The focus of the guidelines is upon the underage sale of knives. The legislation does, however, cover a much broader range of bladed articles including, for example, axes and razor blades. It is therefore important that retailers understand the scope of the legislation in order to identify which items of stock are subject to age restrictions. 

Retailers would be well advised to consider:

  • Checking the up to date guidance relating to age restricted sales, particularly in respect of online sales.
  • Reviewing the adequacy of underage sales policies and procedures for both in stores and online.
  • Refreshing staff training.
  • Regularly carrying out routine checks to ensure that underage sales policies and procedures are being followed.

About Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Womble Bond Dickinson is a leading retail law firm in the UK. If you would like to learn more about the sentencing guidelines or you need advice on age restricted sales, please get in touch with our experienced team of retail lawyers, who would be happy to assist you.

Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) is a full-service international law firm sitting amongst the Top 20 UK law firms and ranking 109th globally. In the UK, WBD has more than 120 partners and around 450 lawyers based in eight strategic locations, including the UK's biggest cities and legal hotspots.

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