Acid attacks are seemingly a new phenomenon and are reported almost daily. However 6 years ago the NHS recorded 144 assaults with corrosive substances. However, the UK has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks in the world
2078 acid attacks were recorded between 2011-2016 with about 20% of those attacks resulting in charges, less still leading to convictions. I suspect that’s why such attacks seem to be on the increase. Corrosive substances are usually colourless, odourless and easily carried & concealed. They can be thrown very quickly from an every day looking bottle so as not cause alarm. Yet the damage leaves horrendous damage and scars, both physical and psychological.
Does the government need to react and pass new laws? In short, I believe that current legislation is equipped to deal with such attacks. GBH with intent contrary to s.18 OAPA 1861 carries life imprisonment and possessing an offensive weapon on indictment carries 4 years by virtue of s.1 PCA 1953. The use of acid in such attacks would also be an aggravating feature and the level of harm and disfigurement would justify a greater sentence. In reality, it’s likely that we will see sweeping new regulations to restrict sales of corrosive substances to people under age. At the moment anyone can buy drain cleaner or bleach both of which contain acid. But will this really make any difference? We already have the The Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2015 to regulate the sale and supply of relevant items. Those determined to use acid to attack, disfigure and maim with will do so whatever the regulations and whatever new criminal offences are created. In my view, the focus will be with the sentencing council and the guidelines will be reviewed to make sure that where acid is used there will be higher culpability and greater emphasis on the harm caused to the victim – both increasing the sentence dramatically.