Sheriff did not misdirect jury in describing knives as ‘weapon’, appeal court rules

A man found guilty of carrying an “offensive weapon” in public after witnesses saw him brandishing two knives and chasing youths in a street “as if he was going to stab someone” has failed in an appeal against conviction.

The Criminal Appeal Court dismissed the appellant’s claim that the sheriff “misdirected” the jury in referring to the items as a “weapon”.

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lady Paton and Lord Bracadale, heard that the appellant Paul Chalmers was found guilty following a two-day trial at Paisley Sheriff Court in June 2015 of a charge which libelled that he was carrying an “offensive weapon”, namely two knives, in a public place “without reasonable excuse or lawful authority” on a street in Paisley in May 2014 contrary to section 47(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.

When he came to charge the jury, the sheriff explained the nature of the charge of having an offensive weapon.

He said that it was not disputed that the appellant had the knives with him.

On dealing with the concept of a public place, the sheriff said the accused had the weapons in a public place, namely, “in a street.”

He went on to describe an offensive weapon, which he defined as “any item made or adapted for causing injury to a person, or intended by the person who has it with him for that purpose”.

Much of the sheriff’s phraseology was derived from the Jury Manual, including the word “weapon”, as distinct from a more neutral “item” or “article”, when describing the third category of offensive weapon.

However, the ground of appeal stated that while it was accepted that the language used by the learned sheriff in charging the jury about the appellant’s intention was largely derived from the Jury Manual, the sheriff went further than the Jury Manual suggested and specifically directed that the “two kitchen knives” were “the sort of weapon we are concerned with here” when it was for the jury to decide whether they were offensive weapons in terms of section 47(4) of the 1995 Act.

It was argued that the sheriff had failed to analyse the true legal issue in the case and had adopted directions using “inappropriate language” which did not reflect the terms of the statute.

The sheriff had told the jury that the knives which the appellant admittedly carried were “weapons”, whereas that was a matter for the jury to decide for themselves, it was argued.

But the judges refused the appeal after ruling that “no misdirection occurred”.

Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice General said: “In his charge the sheriff made it clear that, for a conviction to follow, the jury required to be satisfied that the accused had ‘this weapon with him with the intention of using it to cause personal injury to someone’.

“He made it clear that the task which faced the jury was to decide whether the appellant’s purpose was to cause injury to a person.

“The use of the noun ‘weapon’ was entirely appropriate in the context of someone running about a public street, in the early hours of the morning, brandishing two large kitchen knives.

“The sole issue for the jury to determine, and which was clearly focused for them by the sheriff, was to determine whether it had been the intention of the appellant to use the knives to cause injury to a person in these circumstances.

“The jury must have been satisfied that this had been the appellant’s intention. For these reasons, no misdirection occurred and the appeal against conviction must be refused.”

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