Acid Attacks - Does the law need to change?
Public concern about the increasing prevalence of such attacks is well known. A recent spree of them in which the victims were moped riders was widely reported. Predictably, perhaps inevitably, there has been a government response. The Home Secretary has proposed a comprehensive review of the law in this area, suggesting that this new legislation may be necessary and arguing that those convicted of such attacks should be liable to imprisonment for life. Doubtless some months from now someone will propose is a package of measures which they will be described as robust. Is such action necessary?
The motivation in the recent attacks is said to have been robbery. A person convicted of robbery can, on conviction, be jailed for life in appropriate circumstances. This however is not always the motive behind such offences and a robbery charge may not therefore always be appropriate. The intention is sometimes to disfigure the victim. Such disfigurement clearly amounts to grievous (i.e. really serious) bodily harm and, if the necessary intent were demonstrated this too would amount to an offence already punishable by imprisonment for life. Less well-known, but still on the statute book is section 29 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which specifically makes the throwing of any corrosive fluid with intention to maim or disfigure an offence - again punishable by life imprisonment.
It therefore appears that there already exist a number of appropriate offences which are applicable in these circumstances.
The Crown Prosecution Service is to be asked by the Home Office to redraft its guidelines enabling them then to treat sulphuric acid as a dangerous substance. Quite why any redrafting is necessary is puzzling. Sulphuric acid is a dangerous substance in the same way that the cat is a furry thing which chases mice.
Clearly, preventative powers would be desirable in order to apprehend those intent on committing such offences before their objective has been achieved. Again, the current law might be thought sufficient. The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 made it an offence to possess any item with the intention of using that item to cause personal injury. There appears to be no reason why this law would not extend to the carrying of acid or other corrosive substances.
Concern has been raised regarding the ready availability of such potential weapons. Regulation similar to that applicable to the purchase of poison has been proposed. There may however be legitimate doubt about the workability of such a scheme. While there are few legitimate uses for arsenic and thallium there are many trades which rely on the use of substances which while useful when used legitimately become dangerous when thrown into someone's face. Is it necessary or desirable for people to be required to sign a register to buy everyday household cleaning products.? Probably not.
In conclusion it may be that the existing law is sufficient to deal with the problem which exists and the call fresh legislation is, as so often, unnecessary.
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