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Knives and acid sales

The application of age restrictions for offensive weapons and corrosive substances varies  from  state to state

This page only address the law in the United Kingdom

Offensive Weapons Act 2018

This Act is not yet in force but commencement is expected imminently – perhaps autumn 2021.  The law

  • introduces new legislative measures to control the sale of knives and corrosive substances, and introduces new offences on their possession and use.
  • creates a new criminal offence of selling a corrosive product to a person under the age of 18.
  • creates new criminal offences prohibiting the delivery of bladed products sold online to a residential address, but provides a defence where age verification takes place.

The bladed products in question are those that can cause serious injury, and there are additional defences for made to order items and those for sporting and re-enactment purposes.

Where the seller is based outside of the UK, delivery of a bladed article to an under 18 at any premises is an offence for the delivery company. In practice, delivery to residential addresses is still permitted where the seller has entered into a specific agreement with the delivery company that age verification will take place on delivery.

The legislation does not prescribe what age verification processes or systems should be used for the purposes of meeting one of the conditions for the defence to the offence of sale to an under 18 when the sale was made remotely.  Draft  guidance acknowledged that there are a wide range of age verification processes or systems available, and changes in technology mean these will be subject to change and development.  The Government was also clear during the passage of the legislation in Parliament that it did not want to issue standards for electronic age verification which would in effect tell sellers or delivery companies what age verification systems they should procure and use.  It is for retailers and businesses to decide what system works best for their business models and will allow them to demonstrate that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence. It is the responsibility of the seller to make a decision on whether a particular system meets the requirement that [the] “system was likely to prevent persons under the age of 18 from buying corrosive products by that method”.

It is also the responsibility of the seller to take all reasonable precautions and exercise all due diligence to ensure that the package will be delivered into the hands of a person aged 18 or over. The courts will be the final arbiter as to whether the seller has put in place adequate systems, taking into account the particular facts in individual cases. However, it is the Government’s intention that the following examples, either individually or combined, will be insufficient to satisfy the court that robust age verification had taken place:

  • Relying on the person purchasing the corrosive product ticking a box confirming that they are over 18;
  • Relying in any other way on information provided by the purchaser that they are over 18 without conducting additional checks;
  • Using payment systems that may require the customer to be over 18, but which do not verify their age at the point of purchase.

GDPR (in force today)

You should be sure that your users – even if they are not buying knives or acid –  are at least old enough to give consent for their personal data to be processed, if you rely on consent under Article 8 of GDPR, as a basis for processing some or all personal data you obtain from your users.  (Remember, personal data  even includes just an IP address.)  In the UK, this “age of  digital consent” is 13 but it varies between EU member states so if you have users in the EU, you will need to also determine their location and apply the relevant age as part of this check.

Age Appropriate Design Code (in force today, but grace period in operation in the UK until 2 September 2021)

This requires sites to consider if they could risk the moral, physical or mental well-being of children under 18.  And if so, to put in proportional measures to safeguard children and young people.

Sites selling  knives or acids need to pay close attention to their design to minimise the risk that they could impact the mental well-being of minors looking at the site.  If  a site is concerned that it could have a negative impact on  children viewing its pages,  then some degree of age verification should be applied.

The rigor required is a matter for the judgement of the sites concerned – giving consideration to the nature of the content on the site, the number of users under 18 found to be using it, etc.  But given the reputational risk if a child is harmed after visiting your website, perhaps frequently, we recommend at least a standard level of assurance.  See our page on levels of assurance for an explanation of the methods of age verification that  achieve this degree of confidence in an age check.

Online Safety Bill (only draft legislation, not yet passed by Parliament)

As online retailers rarely allow users to interact and share content such as photographs, they are not  in scope for the Online Safety legislation.  There is a specific exemption for sites which allow comments on content produced and published directly by the site itself, not by users.

Please read our briefing on the Online Safety Bill for further explanation if you are concerned  your site might not be exempted to learn of the new duties it imposes.


Posted on

May 17, 2021

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