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UK amends new weapons bill to allow possession of large kirpans

March 28, 2019 07:43 AM


UK amends new weapons bill to allow possession of large kirpans
Naomi Canton


British Sikhs can continue to buy, possess and gift large kirpans, or religious swords, without fear of being sent to jail. The UK parliament on Tuesday passed amendments to an antiweapons bill ensuring that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans.

The purpose of UK’s Offensive Weapons Bill, which will now become law, is to reduce violent crime in the UK following a spike in fatal knife attacks and acid attacks in London by strengthening the law surrounding the possession, supply and sale of dangerous knives, corrosive substances and firearms.

However there were fears that it would unintentionally criminalise the Sikh community, who keep ceremonial large kirpans, or curved swords, at their homes. Small kirpans were not affected by the new legislation and are already protected under the UK law. Small kirpans were not affected by the new legislation and are already protected in UK law.

MP Preet Gill said: “The bill would have meant that Sikhs who possessed a 50cm kirpan at home would be committing a criminal act and subject to a year’s imprisonment. So, I am grateful for the minister’s (home secretary Sajid Javid) intervention to amend the justification for a Sikh possessing a kirpan from the narrow ‘religious ceremonies’ to ‘religious reasons’. This was a fundamental change to protect the rights of Sikhs to purchase and possess a kirpan. With this amendment, the Sikh community have been given a clear commitment by the government that they will not be penalised.”

When the bill was first introduced it had said a defence to possession of a dangerous knife could be “the person’s conduct was for the purpose only of participating in religious ceremonies”. Gill told TOI: “When the amendment said religious ceremonies that did not cover you taking it back to your house after a wedding ceremony.” She said the APPG for British Sikhs, of which she is chair, then met with the minister and the team drawing up the bill to change it. “The government then tabled an amendment to change it to ‘religious reasons’ to cover marriages , Nagar Kirtan gatka, Akhand Paths, etc.,” she said.

When the bill reached the House of Lords that defence was changed to “show that the person possessed the weapon for religious reasons only”. Narinderjit Singh, general secretary of the Sikh Federation (UK), said: “The Sikh Federation (UK) picked this up before the third reading in the House of Commons and approached MPs belonging to the APPG on UK Sikhs. Over 200 MPs were lobbied in November 2018 and home secretary Sajid Javid was persuaded with the help of Preet Kaur Gill and other MPs to change the wording on legislation that only referred to ‘religious ceremonies’, i.e. shift from Sikh weddings to the much broader term ‘religious reasons’. The explanatory note supporting the bill published on November 29, 2018 for the first time mentioned the kirpan by name.” The explanatory note now states: “Religious reasons would include large kirpans which are supplied and possessed for religious reasons.” “Some campaigned in the Lords through opposition peers to have the kirpan legally recognised … but were unable to convince home office ministers and officials,” Singh added.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon then tabled a further amendment in the House of Lords creating a defence to the offence of supply and possession of weapons, allowing a person of the Sikh faith to present another person with a curved sword longer than 50 cm in a religious ceremony or other ceremonial event. This was also passed meaning Sikhs can continue to legally possess curved swords for the purpose of presenting them to others at a ceremony and for the recipients, whether Sikh or non-Sikh, to possess swords that have been presented to them.


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