In this article, we are going to look at wooden truncheons in the context of offensive weapons as described in the UK Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and see how they may be interpreted.
As many other articles on the site explain, if one is trying to establish if wooden truncheons are offensive weapons, it is wholly dependant on the circumstances as a wooden truncheon is not an offensive weapon per se.
If a wooden truncheon was an offensive weapon in and of itself, then a baseball bat, a rolling pin or a tree branch would similarly be one. And they’re not. Not unless you are using them offensively or intend to.
So if one is looking at wooden truncheons in the context of the law, one looks at two pieces of legislation: Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offensive weapons) and the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 from which much of the later Act relies upon and draws from.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the world was a simpler place and laws were mostly pretty straightforward.
The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 covers “Prohibition of the carrying of offensive weapons without lawful authority or reasonable excuse”.
“Lawful authority” basically means policemen. Or policewomen.
It goes on to clarify: “Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence”.
The bits we need to look at here are the terms “reasonable excuse” and “the proof whereof shall lie on him”.
In short, if you happen to have a wooden truncheon in a “public place” for whatever reason, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have a “reasonable excuse” for doing so.
The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 makes provision for the police thus: “A constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be committing an offence”.
We have discussed this in other articles here. Our article Is It Legal to Carry a Wooden Truncheon in the UK? discusses the whole concept of reasonable excuse. The article A Truncheon for Self-Defence in the UK – Is It Legal? discusses the law around self-defence in the UK with a focus on “weapons” such as some may regard a wooden truncheon as.
Now make no mistake, if you threaten someone with a truncheon, or hit them with it, it then becomes an offensive weapon and you’re nicked.
If you have one about your person and declare that it’s for self-defence, it could be argued that this demonstrates intent (albeit against an unknown person). And you’re still nicked.
If you have one about your person for legitimate purposes (discussed elsewhere here), and it isn’t being used or intended as a weapon, then that might be “reasonable excuse”.
The CPS guidance states this: “The term “offensive weapon” is defined as: “any article made or adapted for use to cause injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use”.
Is a wooden truncheon of vintage design an article made or adapted for use to cause injury to the person?
We’d suggest not.
If an item is made to cause injury, one might argue it must be an item designed for the purposes of attack.
David Cross, the curator at the West Midlands Police Museum said: “Truncheons were weapons of defence not attack, they were there in case you had to quell anybody.
If wooden truncheons are made to a vintage design, why would anyone bother to replicate a vintage design, and anyone seek one out if it was just for bashing little old ladies over the barnet outside the Post Office?
Of course, they wouldn’t.
The person who wants a truncheon-like implement to use as a weapon is surely going to buy something like this.
You wouldn’t go out of your way to source a vintage design truncheon if you wanted to use it as an offensive weapon in our opinion. You’re more likely to be a collector or police memorabilia enthusiast. You are buying a collector’s item. A piece of social history.
If you want to practice hooliganism or criminality, you can buy much more suitable items than wooden truncheons easily enough.
The reader here is here to learn about the details, nuances and possible interpretations of UK law in order that he doesn’t get on the wrong side of it should he choose to avail himself of a vintage design truncheon.
As we’re discussing the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, the CPS guidance throws up another interesting nugget:
It must be shown that the defendant intended to use the article for causing injury.
It is important to be aware of the principle set out in R v Jura  1 QB 503, 38 Cr. App. R. 53, CCA: where a person uses an article offensively in a public place, the offensive use of the article is not conclusive of the question whether he had it with him as an offensive weapon within section 1(1) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. Having an article innocently will be converted into having the article guiltily if an intent to use the article offensively is formed before the actual occasion to use violence has arisen. This is known as the principle of “instantaneous arming”. In Williamson  67 Cr App rep 35, LJ Lane set out that section 1(4) PCA provides three categories of weapons. The first category is the weapon which is made for causing injury to the person – “offensive per se”. The second type of weapon is one not made for that purpose but adapted for it, such as a potato with a razor blade inserted into it. The third type of weapons is one neither made nor adapted but is one which is intended by the person having it with him for the purpose of causing personal injury to someone. Whether an article is an offensive weapon is a question of fact for the jury. In the first two categories, the prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant had the weapon with him for the purpose of inflicting injury: if the jury are sure that the weapon is offensive per se, the defendant will only be acquitted if he establishes lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Intent to cause injury can be inferred from the context of the surrounding circumstances.
As we can see here and from other articles on this site, the whole subject of weapons, the definition of weapons and their use in self-defence is rather a grey area open to much interpretation when it relates to something like a vintage design police truncheon.
Stay on the right side of the law is our advice. In order to do that you must have a reasonable grasp of the law and its intent. Read all the articles on this site for a general overview as no single article can tell you everything you may want to know.
As they say on the television programme Law and Order: In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders.
It’s important to remember the police are not lawyers. They’re not judges. The ultimate decisions about what is and isn’t lawful, reasonable excuse, proving intent and all the other factors involved are for a court to decide, and a court only. The CPS generally don’t refer a matter to court unless they think they have a good chance of winning.
If you live in the USA or many other countries, carrying wooden truncheons for self-defence and/or other purposes is completely legal in many states.
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