ANYONE caught carrying a knife in town and city centres in Scotland in the coming weeks faces a potential four years in prison, under a new crackdown announced today.
The six-week pilot scheme will see cases automatically prosecuted as more serious offences, increasing the length of jail terms available to sheriffs from one year to four.
The move follows a similar strengthening of prosecution policy in July covering anyone found with a knife on licensed premises or public transport and in incidents linked to local gangs.
Prosecutors say anyone caught as part of the latest crackdown will be arrested and brought before a sheriff and jury.
Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, QC, said the pilot would involve a zero-tolerance approach to the problem. He said: “The public will wish to enjoy the festive period in our towns and cities without fear. The zero-tolerance crackdown should help to deter anyone stupid enough to think about carrying a knife.
“If the threat of severe penalties for breaking the law deters knife carrying and prevents one act of violence it will have been a success.”
No new legislation is planned by the Scottish Government on knife crime, according to a spokesman, but ministers will work to use existing laws more effectively.
Scots accused of possession of a knife in a public place in town and city centres during the pilot will see their cases automatically go through “solemn”, not summary, procedure, increasing sentencing powers.
Victims groups and the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit welcomed the new approach to knife crime but shadow community safety minister James Kelly MSP said the Scottish Government needed to go further.
He said: “The Crown Office’s tough new stance on knife crime is a step in the right direction, but with knife crime taking its toll on Scotland 365 days a year, the crackdown should be all year round, not just for Christmas.
“The message needs to be sent loud and clear that it is never, ever, acceptable to carry a knife on the streets of Scotland.”
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: “Tackling knife crime is an absolute priority for this government and we have made clear that Scotland’s prosecutors and the courts have my full backing in using the full force of the law to punish anyone who carries or uses a knife.
“We believe the key to tackling knife crime is a combination of tough enforcement on the streets, backed by education.”
A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said people who had been victims of knife crime would be “delighted” at the pilot scheme. He added: “It’s common sense – you can only harm someone with a knife if you go out with a knife.”