The following information is offered as a guide and
is not to be taken as any sort of legal advice. This text
should be appearing in the next edition of "Pagan Times".
(I didn't write this, there was no atrribution on the
copy forwarded to me - Laren)
This article is in response to a number of pagan friends
who've expressed fears as to how the new N.S.W. knife
laws impact on their possession of ritual blades (athames).
This article was prepared using the Act itself, a government
information kit, the police services own internal training
package, and the assistance of a Senior Sgt. Police trainer
including discussions with police who will be enforcing
this act 'at the coalface'.
'But constable, it's not a knife it's my Athame.'
The N.S.W. Public Safety Act came into force on the 1st
of July 1998. The new Act permits police to demand the
name and address of any person, to search any person and
confiscate any kitife or weapon found in their possession.
The possession of a knife in any school or public place
without a lawful excuse is an offence. Refusing a second
request to be searched is an offence. Previously, searching
was legally restricted to persons who had already been
arrested. The type of search permitted is a pat-down (or
metal detector) only, however, you can be asked to remove
your over-coat, or coat. If you refuse they will ask again
under this Act. A second refusal will probably result
in arrest. As a person in custody, a strip search at a
police station is then mandatory. Refusing to provide
personal particulars is an offence. Whether or not one
agrees with these provisions, the act exists and much
of the advice given in the 'know your rights' booklets
produced in the 1980's is now obsolete˙ So, what is a
lawful excuse for carrying a blade? The Act specifies
Genuine occupational use. Abattoir workers, chefs,
carpet layers etc, all have very expensive knives
and generally take them home. Carrage to and from
work is legal.
Legitimate sporting/recreation activity. Martial
artists, metal weapons re-enactment groups, campers,
fishers etc. may all possess blades to indulge in
Food preparation. This law will not impact on people
using knives to cut fruit, spread butter & generally
prepare food on a picnic, street stall etc.
As part of a uniform. Scottish pipe bands wear a
dirk in theft sock. Prison officers carry a small
'noose cutter'. Members of the Armed Forces often
wear a bayonet for public parades.
Genuine religious purposes. Every Sikh male is required
to carry a knife to symbolise his willingness to defend
his faith. (Although in practise this usually manifest
itself as a small symbolic blade). The Athame, or
ritual blade of the pagan is most defineately covered
by this exemption.
However... the Act places the onus of proof on the accused,
and it appears that the key to these exemptions is context.
So while a butcher needs his knives whilst working and
commuting, he would be hard pressed to prove occupational
necessity whilst sitting in a pub. Likewise a martial
artist can posses a samurai sword, but if training nights
are Mon.& Wed., and the sword is found in his car on a
Friday night, then his exemption probably won't hold water.
This was the actual circumstance of the first charge laid
under the Act. The guy didn't front court and was fined
in his absence - (Sword to be destroyed.) The same may
be said for a picnicker using a bowie knife to butter
saos. The picnicker may have some difficulty justifying
their choice of cutlery.
So while there is no legal impediment to a pagan transporting
their Athame to & from circle or festivals, if they stop
off at timezone, or the pub, the context would suggest
that it is not being held for a genuine religious purpose
and they leave themselves vulnerable to, at the very least,
confiscation. While this law may prove inconvenient, it's
now a fact of life that an extra burden of responsibility
is placed on the owners of legitimate blades.
While the law doesn't differentiate between wearing a
blade and having one in your bag, (both being possession)
I would suggest that wearing it on your belt publicly
is tantamount to erecting a neon sign asking the police
to question, search and possibly confiscate it. Not everyone
has that much time to waste which brings me to my next
Dealing with the Police
This law was introduced (hurriedly) following the stabbing
murders of two police, and the less publieised non-fatal
stabbing/cutting of a number of others. The new law gives
them sweeping powers. How they use these powers will depend
to a great degree on your reaction. For the purpose of
this exercise we will assume you have been stopped by
the police on your way to/from circle. Your blade will
of course be snugly wrapped up in your bag in company
with other ritual items (clothes, cord etc). As well as
placing the item in its proper context, this will later
be evidence that the blade was being carried for the stated
ritual purpose. Police have been instructed to introduce
themselves, and advise you that they wish to question
you under this new Act.
Avoid becoming emotional. (A magical practitioner should
be able to exercise control). It may be that you have
been targeted through a combination of your appearance
and the personal prejudice of the officer. On the other
hand an old lady may have just been killed nearby and
they're questioning as many people as possible. Now while
your not obliged to tell them any more than your name
and address, it is probably in your interest to eliminate
yourself from their enquires at the earliest possible
stage, telling them where your going to/coming from will
also validate your reason for possessing the blade which
they are about to find. If you refuse to provide your
name and address, you may be arrested.
An initial request to search will generally be casual
eg: '..well we'd like to look in your bag' or 'Are you
carrying anything you shouldn't be?' (A formal request
will follow any refusal.) At this point be up-front and
honest. You have the blade for a legitimate purpose and
are within the law. A good response would be "No, (ie'
nothing I shouldn't) but I do have my ritual knife in
my bag" Ask them if they would like you to remove it,
or if they would rather do it themselves. Criminals otfen
plant syringes, razors etc in their bags as booby traps
for police. On the other hand if someone actually has
just been found murdered, they may be disinclined to let
you reach into your bag for a knife. While this action
may seem insignificant it will help by sub-consciously
taking some of the tension out of the encounter.
If they ask you to unpack it don't whip it out and pass
it to them. Unroll it in front of them. State that as
it's a religious accoutrement, you'd prefer that they
didn't touch it. (They probably will anyway but you are
establishing that it is a genuine religious article and
not just another shiv). The questions will then revolve
around why you have it with you at this time. If you answer
that you're commuting to/from circle, you should have
no problems. (If you add" .... and to defend myself with."
then you have just invited old man trouble to stay for
the holidays.) At this juncture they may make some notes,
check your story, and that should be the end of the matter.
What if the cop in question is a religious bigot? What
ff they were away sick when the new law was explained.
What if the old lady' s body had a huge pentagram carved
into it? In that case the police might:
a) Confiscate the blade
b) Arrest you AND confiscate the blade.
If your Athame is confiscated, you have 28 days to attend
a police station, fill out a pro-forma application stating
your details, the name rank & station of the officer and
the reason why your blade should be returned. The local
commander has the authority to return the blade. Should
return be refused, you then have a further 28 days to
appeal to the local court. A decision is made by a magistrate
sitting alone. If you do not so apply the blade is then
If you are arrested there is no mileage to be had in
throwing a tantrum. Even though you were within the law
and the police are in error, the arrest alone is not necessarily
illegal. It is pointless stating your objection to being
arrested, (this goes without saying, no one wants to be
arrested), and the subtle difference between objecting
and resisting (another offence) are usually lost on the
average copper. I've never yet known a copper to 'unarrest'
someone. The place to argue the matter is in court. The
same holds for friends accompanying you who may be tempted
to play tug-of-war with your body. They will be far more
use to you taking notes (notes made at the time are good
evidence) and arranging bail than sitting next to you
charged with hinder/obstruct police (another offence).
Unlike the sheriff in old movies about the Deep South,
police don't want to keep you in custody a minute longer
than than it takes to identify and charge you. For starters
they have to allocate someone to watch over you, and secondly
if any harm comes to you in custody the guy in charge
usually wears the blame. However, before they give you
bail they need to satisfy a few criteria.
- 1. That you'll turn up to court.
You can satisfy this condition by having an address
(or the address of a friend if your from out of town)
and no prior instances of not turning up to court.
( I've assumed from the outset that your'e law abiding.)
- 2. You'11 commit no further offences whilst on
If they've confiscated you blade you can hardly re-offend
- 3. The seriousness of the offence.
This is not held to be an offence without an assumption
in favour of bail.
Any assistance you can give them towards achieving bail
will save you an uncomfortable and depressing night. Steadfastly
refusing to give your name and address garrentees that
they have to hold you.
On arrival at the station you should ask to speak to
a senior officer about the charge. Explain to them what
has happened and that you believe you have a lawful excuse
to carry the blade, and if possible give them the contact
number of a responsible pagan where they can contirm your
story. Advise them that you explained this to the arresting
officer, but do not engage in blaming, or complaining
about the arresting officers prejudice. Now is not the
time or place. Above all remain calm and in control. You
might well be released without being charged. If so and
you've been calm and co-operative you will quite possibly
be given a lift back to your destination.
If not, your next step is to have your solicitor approach
the police prosecutions branch to drop the charge. These
people are experienced professionals trained to recognise
a charge destined to fall on it's arse. In the unlikely
event the police do go on with it, the matter will be
determined by a magistrate. Remember though that the act
states that the onus of proof is on the accused to prove
the validity of their exemption. Your solicitor will tell
you what kind of evidence is required. eg: testimony of
circle members, encyclopedia references, photos of the
Athame in use.
Pagans come from all walks of life. We vote, we work
and we pay taxes. We have the same responsibilities towards,
and are entitled to the same protection from the law as
any other member of the community. The Police Service
has carefully briefed it's members as to the purpose of
this Act, and how it is to be utilised. Their oath of
office contains the phrase "... without malice or ill
If an officer makes derogatory or insulting comments
about you faith, or worse, arrests you for carrying an
Athame in clearly legal circumstances, lodge a complaint
with their station commander (usually an Inspector). There
is also the police integrity branch and the Ombudsman.
The State Ombudsman has been specifically charged to oversee
the use of this Act. The law has been gazetted for an
initial period of 12 months, with the Ombudsman to report
on any police abuse of their discretionary powers.
**** If you get arrested while hooning around a public
place with your Athame hanging off your belt then your
buggered and nothing that I've written will be of any
help to you.