UK Knife Law – our interpretation

We’re not lawyers, but we kept getting asked this question so we looked into it.

Carrying a folding pocket knife with a blade of less than 3 inches in length is legal in the UK IF the blade does NOT lock in place. However, this is context sensitive. You may well get away with carrying a small blade when camping or trekking, but if venturing to the pub after pitching tent then leave it in your pack at base.

Unless you have a very, very good reason to carry it, you shouldn’t ever leave the house with any blade longer than 3 inches which doesn’t fold up like a Swiss-army knife. Your only defence if you get caught or reported with something other than a small folding knife will be if it is a genuine need for your work (gardener, farmer), religion or specialist pastime (bakery, martial arts when carrying relevant paperwork) and you are engaged in that activity at that time. For example, I have a 3-inch locking blade on a multi tool as part of my Search & Rescue gear. I have to take it off if ever attending a fundraising or non-search event despite it being part of my ‘kit’.

The law applies to any public place – camp sites, public footpaths etc.  So if you fancy taking your machete camping to cut some firewood, maybe consider taking a saw instead, since ‘lawful excuse’ is in the eyes of the police officer. If they think you’re not justified in having the knife, you’re in for a rude awakening.

A folding knife with a safety lock is NOT OK for the above every-day use. If you want to carry a knife with any sort of locking blade (even a safety lock) you need the ‘lawful reason’. Even a multitool with a locking blade is illegal when out of context of work or ‘need’.

One last note… it is perfectly legal for a shop to sell anyone over 18 a locking knife. As soon as you purchase it you are then ‘in a public place in possession of a locking knife’ and require the good reason. I’ve just read the story of a decorator who purchased a locking pocket knife as part of his shopping, was stopped in the street and searched and then jailed (source). Make sure that, if you wish to carry a knife, it folds, doesn’t lock in any way, and that you have a good reason.

Here’s what the UK Home Office have to say on the matter:


OK to carry:swissarmyknife

Unless you’re in a place where there’s no justifiable need for a knife, i.e. a Pub, School, Cinema etc.

Not OK to carry:

Blades more than 3 inches from tip to handle
Any straight (non-folding) knife, of any length
Any locking knife (even an Opinel or Leatherman which locks), of any length blade

  • Keith

    Please be aware that the law of Scotland is different to that of England & Wales. Below is a link to an excellent BASC leaflet on the knife law in Scotland:-

  • Ian

    Actually the law in Scotland is exactly the same, the same exception exists in the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.

    I would add that with the exception of a school you do not need any justification in law whatsoever for carrying a non locking folding knife with a cutting edge of less than three inches.

  • David D Davidson

    It is up to the officer, however I believe that in the UK if taken to court you do have the right to a jury trial. Since magistrates were originally prosecutors they have a much higher rate of finding you guilty of ‘carrying a lethal weapon with intent’ than a jury, especially if you have a good solicitor and make sure the multitool is brought into court. With character witnesses, no history of violent crime and an honest demeanour with the officer if you have any prior arrests or convictions this will be your best defence. Keeping the knives in pristine condition can also help as you can say you rarely if ever used them and that you thought of filing down the locking mechanism but that would simply make it a dangerous knife as it has no backspring to hold it in place; meaning that severed fingers and a large NHS bill could be the worst outcome. Better to have something and not need it than need something and not have it.
    Naturally court is the worst place you will want to end up and at the end of the day it’s up to the officer’s judgement on whether or not to arrest you. Carrying it after dark, in bad neighbourhoods or while intoxicated will all be reason for you to be arrested, keeping it in it’s sheath, in a hard to reach zipped pocket will also be a good defence as it means you can’t whip it out on a whim; keeping a calm and polite attitude with the officer will be a saving grace; mentioning that you were out for a bike ride earlier and simply forgot to leave it at home afterwords and that you are more than happy to either pay for a taxi, or have the officers drive you home to deposit the tool (and call it a tool, not a blade, knife or anything else that suggests that you consider the knife to be a primary function, unless you have an extremely good reason), mention how sorry you are for wasting the officer’s time. A polite, calm but respectful attitude will be a lifesaver; don’t grovel but don’t start going on about how you have a ‘good reason to carry it’ (as this will just show that you looked up the law online and _know_ that it’s illegal to carry), if asked give a good reason to carry it, but don’t make that your leading sentence, from experience claiming to know the law better than the officers speaking to you will only be to your detriment, even if you _do_ know the law better than them.

    If they do want to search you (when I was much younger) I had a fair amount of a ‘class A substance’ (personal use) on me) I went around to pick up a friend and for some reason he was kicking off at his parents, the police got called, someone mentioned a knife and the police instantly demanded to search me. The fact that I simply said “okay I have nothing to hide”, handed over my bag which they quickly opened and shut meant that they missed it completely and even gave me and my friend a lift to my house in their car, if I had an attitude or had been reluctant to hand over the bag I’d have likely ended up in a station. Calm, polite and respectful, as well as the luck of getting the right officer will save your hide more than quoting law line for line or calling the officers into question. Living in a ‘nice neighbourhood’ is also a lifesaver even though it’s pre-judging you for where you live officers will tend to act an awful lot looser with someone who lives somewhere with a low crime rate.

    Keeping a cool head and your mouth in check will usually keep you on the right side of the law, even if you are technically breaking it.