The appellant was charged with having a knife in a public place without a reasonable excuse or lawful authority. The conviction was appealed on the basis that the sheriff had erred in determining that the statutory defence of reasonable excuse was not provided.
The appellant had a history of mental health issues and on the 22nd of February 2022 he decided the commit suicide, in Kildrum Woods, using a knife. He contacted NHS 24 on the way to the woods and this resulted in police being notified. The appellant was found on a public footpath next to Cumbernauld High School. The appellant was found holding a knife and he was taken to hospital. He did not injure or attempt to injure any members of the public with the knife.
The sheriff determined that the reasonable excuse test had not been satisfied for possession of the knife. The appellant was admonished. The sheriff referred to English case law and concluded that the defence was not available to someone contemplating suicide.
Counsel for the appellant submitted that the sheriff had relied heavily upon English case law. It was argued that there was no relevance to the appropriateness of criminalising those who are suicidal.
In providing the opinion of the court, Sheriff Principal Lewis stated: “The tasks facing the summary sheriff were to consider whether the statutory defence was available and then whether the evidence supports the statutory defence. The summary sheriff, in our view, approached those tasks with care and sensitivity. He had due regard to the legislative regime. He carried out a careful review of the English authorities and in each he considered the facts, the applicable legislation and drew appropriate distinctions.”
She continued: “In the present case the appellant was arrested on a public footpath next to a school, walking with his arms outstretched and a knife in his left hand. Whatever his underlying intention, there was no reasonable excuse for his possession of the knife in those circumstances and at that locus. Further, his intended destination was a nearby wooded area, a public place. We are not persuaded that carrying a knife for the purposes of committing suicide in a public place is an inherently reasonable act.”
The appeal court concluded the sheriff had not erred in considering that the defence did not apply.