Every knife crime is a tragedy, and any victim is one too many. The Government is taking action on every level to cut crime and make our streets safer, but we know there is much more to do to protect the public and end the scourge of serious violence.
The case for urgent action is clear. In the year to March 2020 alone 256 people were stabbed to death in England and Wales. Recorded knife crime rose to 46,265 in the same period, with a staggering 4,547 weapons offences committed by children last year. Thousands of people are seeking hospital treatment for stab wounds each year, with some offences never reported.
To save lives and prevent injury we must stop serious violence from happening in the first place. Too many people who carry knives and weapons go on to offend time and time again, with 29% of offenders in 2019 having previous convictions. Our determination to break this deadly cycle of persistent offending led to our manifesto commitment to introduce Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs).
Front line police have long told us that stop and search is a vital tool to crack down on violent crime; it acts as a deterrent and helps keep knives and weapons off our streets. We have listened to them, and to the recommendation of the Centre for Social Justice, to propose a new court order to bear down on known offenders. These SVROs would give the police personalised powers to target those already convicted of certain knife offences – giving them the automatic right to search those who pose the greatest risk. These searches could take place without suspicion so that these known criminals could be stopped at any time.
The intention is for SVROs to complement existing stop and search powers and to prevent known offenders carrying weapons with impunity. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, a court would have the power to impose them following conviction for any relevant offence. They could then set the length of the order, which would apply from the moment the offender walked free, either while on licence or where there was no immediate jail time. The offender would then be more likely to be stopped by the police and searched to see if they are carrying a knife again. If caught out they would be brought back before the court where they could expect to receive a custodial sentence under the existing ‘two strikes’ legislation brought in by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
SVROs would empower the police to stop and challenge those who are known to carry knives. They will help to keep communities safer by giving officers a tool to help tackle the most dangerous offenders.
The Government hopes that they will also help the police more effectively target their approach. We know that stop and search disproportionally affects Black people, with the latest figures showing they are 9.7 times more likely to be stopped than those who were White. We are clear that no one should ever be targeted because of the colour of their skin.
We are consulting on the design of SVROs and welcome views on how we can ensure these important tools are used appropriately. Anyone with an interest in this important issue is invited to contribute, including those involved in law enforcement, victims of knife crime and their families.
This consultation will help inform our next steps in the fight against serious violence. It will run from Monday 14 September to Sunday 8 November, and will be available at:
I will also place a copy of the consultation document in the Libraries of both Houses.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords