Ministers consider restricting sales of corrosive liquids to prevent acid attacks
Recent headlines in the press are suggesting that corrosive liquids may be restricted or banned in the future to prevent further violent acid attacks that are now on the increase.
At first, this does sound like a good idea as stopping gang members, jilted (mostly male) partners and thugs from carrying a liquid with the potential to maim, kill or horrifically disfigure can only be a good thing.
The calls for a change in the law are coming from Downing Street and some London MPs.
However, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has said (according to the Guardian newspaper) it is virtually impossible to ban the sale of all corrosive substances. This is because many are household products, such as bleach and drain cleaner, and are freely available over the counter.
What is a corrosive liquid? The UN GHS and transport regulations have different definitions covering damage to skin, eyes and metal.
None of these definitions seem useful in targeting the sort of behavior displayed in acid attacks. Could you argue that your bottle of bleach only causes serious damage to eyes and is not considered corrosive under the transport regulations? Further, an outright ban would cause severe disruption to the supply chain for most household products.
A more useful approach would seem to be to use existing legislation on the carrying of offensive weapons. Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits the possession in any public place of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or excuse.
The term ‘offensive weapon’ is defined as: “any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use“.
The courts have been reluctant to find many weapons that fall within the first part of the definition and reliance is usually placed upon the second part, as intention is crucial in bringing about prosecutions. It would come down to what use the person intended the corrosive liquid for.
On that basis, if it were shown that a person intended to use an article (bleach or battery acid for example) for causing injury, then the offence would be proved.
A successful case under the Act saw a person convicted for having a pot of ground pepper in his possession ready to throw in someone’s face. Substitute pepper for battery acid and the likelihood of conviction should be the same.
This may be a better approach to dealing with acid attacks than trying to ban or restrict corrosive liquid, as the legislation is in place and well tested.