Importing, manufacturing, selling or hiring of knives and offensive weapons: frequently asked questions

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  • Does the prohibition to import, manufacture, sell or hire, etc, apply to all swords?

    The prohibition under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 only applies to swords with a curved blade of 50 centimetres (cm) or over in length. The definition, which refers to any sword with a curved bladed, could include such weapons as a samurai sword, cutlass, sabre, falchion, scimitar or other curved sword, provided the straight line distance from the top of the handle to tip of blade is 50cm or over.

    The prohibition does not apply to specified weapons which are antiques. A weapon is an antique for these purposes if it was manufactured more than 100 years before the date of any alleged offence committed under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

    There are also specific defences in relation to swords with a curved blade. These are that the weapon:

    • was made before 1954 or was made at any other time according to traditional methods of making swords by hand;
    • is to be made available for the organisation and holding a historical re-enactment  or a sporting activity for which public liability insurance is held in relation to liabilities to third parties; or
    • is to be made available for use in religious ceremonies
  • Which defences apply to the import, manufacture, sell or hire etc of an offensive weapon?

    It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 141(1) of the 1988 Act, or an offence under section 50(2) or (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (improper importation) in respect of conduct relating to specified weapons,  to show that his or her conduct was only for the purposes of:

    • functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or a visiting force
    • making the weapon available to a museum or a gallery in certain circumstances
    • theatrical performances and rehearsals of such performances
    • production of certain films
    • production of certain television programmes

    Additional defences apply to swords with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length, including those commonly known as samurai swords. These are that the weapon:

    • was made before 1954 or was made at any other time according to traditional methods of making swords by hand;
    • is to be made available for the organisation and holding a historical re-enactment  or a sporting activity for which public liability insurance is held in relation to liabilities to third parties; or
    • is to be made available for use in religious ceremonies
  • I do martial arts. Can I bring into the UK an article listed as being an offensive weapon if I can show I need it in relation to martial arts activities?

    You may be able to buy or import an offensive weapon to which section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies, if a defence applies. (See question above on defences - which defences apply to the import, manufacture, sell or hire etc of an offensive weapon?).
  • What do I need to do in order to import a knife or offensive weapon into the UK for which an exception may apply?

    If the item is being imported, you must satisfy Border Force or HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that defences apply to the conduct relating to the specific article.

    If you need further information on the importation of an offensive weapon for which defences may apply, you need to contact the HMRC helpline and provide specifics of the item you want to import and why you believe an exception may apply in this case.

    HMRC helpline: 0845 010 9000
    Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

    You can read about what to do if your things are seized by HMRC - Public Notice 12A sets out your right of appeal, and who to contact when goods are seized at the border.