Just a fortnight ago six people were doused with corrosive liquid on London’s streets within 24 hours! In recent years there have been a record number of reports of acid attacks in England and Wales. In 2015, 261 acid attacks were reported to Police whilst in 2016, that figure rose to 458.
Following the recent attacks, the Government has been called upon to introduce tougher legislation in efforts to combat this threat. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that a review will be undertaken into the current legislation and that attackers would “feel the full force of the law” in a bid to overhaul the current legislation.
There has been a suggestion that legislation will be introduced to class corrosive substances, such as acid, as a “dangerous weapon”. In fact, the current law provides that carrying a corrosive substance in a “spray bottle” without lawful or reasonable excuse would already satisfy the offence of Possession of an Offensive Weapon contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. This offence carries a maximum sentence of 4 years imprisonment.
The Government may consider the introduction of licences, however; corrosive substances are household products that many of us buy on our weekly shop so enforcement would be challenging.
Under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, a person who unlawfully and maliciously causes grievous bodily harm to another person with intent can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Therefore, acid attackers who intentionally carry and throw a corrosive substance at another person can currently face life imprisonment under the current legislation. In fact, a corrosive substance for sentencing purposes on a Section 18 offence would as above constitute use of a weapon which would aggravate any sentence imposed by the Court.
The sentencing guidelines already afford the Court the power to impose a starting point of 12 years’ imprisonment with a range between 9 years and 16 years.
Francis Fitzgibbon, QC chair of the Criminal Bar Association said; "Passing new laws alone cannot be guaranteed to eliminate crime, as criminals often react by changing the ways they commit offences,” and that "the capacity to enforce existing law is at least as important."
The issue here is not necessarily with the law itself, but rather the underfunding of the Police and other agencies that have insufficient manpower to investigate the crime.
Amber Rudd has also commented that the Government must “ensure that the Police and other emergency services are able to respond as effectively as possible, to both pursue offenders and give victims the immediate support that they need.” These changes would be welcomed but would require urgent funding.
The law is set out and clear, acid attackers can face up to life imprisonment. A change in the law does not seem necessary unless there are to be introductions surrounding the licensing of carrying corrosive substances, in which case, how this is enforced and monitored would be a further challenge.