Importing Offensive weapons into the UK

10th Jan 2022

In an attempt to keep communities in the UK safe from the significant rise in weapon-related crime the UK’s Border Force Agency have taken a strong stance against those who buy, sell or import offensive weapons.

The UK border force have tightened operations to ensure parcels imported from overseas are inspected and any illegal importation of an offensive weapon is seized. This has made it difficult for those who are legitimately importing weapons into the UK.

The Law

The law on importing offensive weapons takes a different stance depending on the type of weapon that is being imported. For instance, unlike other offences, there is no defence available to a person who has committed the offence of importing a flick knife or gravity knife under section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959.

Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that it is prohibited to import certain ‘specified weapons’. The Criminal Justice Act (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 defines ‘specified weapons’ and includes weapons such as knuckledusters, swordsticks, hand and foot claws, push daggers, disguised knives and swords with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length.

A breach of this prohibition becomes an offence under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. However, an individual may be able to rely on a defence depending on the circumstances of the importation.


You may have a defence if you can show your conduct for importing the specified weapon was only for the purposes of:

  • functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or a visiting force
  • making the weapon available to a museum or a gallery in certain circumstances
  • theatrical performances and rehearsals of such performances
  • the production of certain films
  • the production of certain television programmes

Additional defences apply to swords with a curved blade of 50 cm or over in length, including those commonly known as samurai swords. These are that:

  • the weapon in question was made before 1954 or was made at any other time according to traditional methods of making swords by hand
  • the weapon is to be made available for the organisation and holding a historical re-enactment or a sporting activity for which public liability insurance is held in relation to liabilities to third parties, or
  • the weapon is to be made available for use in religious ceremonies

Antique weapons can also be imported without prohibition if the weapon being imported was manufactured more than 100 years before the date of the alleged offence being committed. This is an important defence to those who collect or trade offensive weapons. In order for an individual to rely upon this defence the antique weapon should be imported with accompanying documents confirming the authenticity of the weapons otherwise the weapon is very likely to be seized by Border Force irrespective of the defence.

We have recently assisted a client who recently had a Japanese long sword called a Katana Seized by Border Force. The sword had been purchased and shipped from an antique auction in USA. Although the sword was made in the 16th Century, the sword was shipped with no documents confirming the swords authenticity. Our team quickly gathered expert evidence authenticating the sword and successfully challenged the seizure on the grounds the sword was an antique. Our client had the sword restored and added to his large collection.

If you have imported an offensive weapon, which has been seized by Border Force, and you think you have a defence, you will be required to adduce further evidence to prove your importation was for a lawful purpose or to prove the authenticity of the weapon. Our Border Force team has a wealth of experience with seeking the restoration of offensive weapons and will act quickly to compile and submit the relevant evidence required to ensure the weapon is released from Border Force.

If you have any questions or require assistance please contact Peter Hastings, a specialist HMRC and UK Border Force Solicitor at


*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or any other professional advice.