Combating acid attacks in London

Combating acid attacks in London



“…People who carry out horrific acid attack could be jailed for life as part of plans for a massive Government crackdown…”.

(Home Secretary Amber Rudd, 16th July 2017, London, United Kingdom)

Among various other crimes, acid attack is considered as one of the most horrific crimes. This crime has a devastating effect on victims, both physically and emotionally. A string of five assaults were allegedly carried out in east and north London on Thursday and have since been linked by Scotland Yard.

On Friday another acid attack was reported in Dagenham, east London. The recent unfortunate attack indicates that acid attack have spiked across the capital. More than 400 acid or corrosive substance attacks were carried out in the six months up to April 2017, according to figures from 39 forces in England and Wales. The Tory Government has decided to introduce tougher penalties for the horrific crime in Parliament as campaigners call for an age limit to be introduced on the sale of dangerous liquids like bleach.

Therefore in the article an attempt would be made to find out the position of acid attack as an offence under the current UK legislation & whether the punishment given are tough enough to prevent the re-occurrence of this crime.  An attempt would also be made to establish the possible framework of future legislation in the UK to ensure that the offenders are jailed for life to prevent the further acid attacks in the UK.

Intention to attack is punishable

Carrying acid with intent to attack is a punishable offence in the UK. Possession of acid or other corrosive substances with the intention to do harm can already be treated as possession of an offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act, which carries a four-year maximum penalty.

However, there are no age restrictions on buying household bleach or drain cleaning products which contain acid. This means anyone can purchase these products.

Age verification campaign

Campaigners are calling on the Government and the police to introduce mandatory age verification for items containing acid. If the government makes it compulsory when purchasing corrosive chemicals to pay by card, then it would be easily traceable to the future acid attackers.

It would be also helpful if new rules are introduced to make buying and selling acid available only under licence.

Acid & Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH)

Those carrying out acid attacks can be charged with Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) & would receive a maximum life sentence under the existing Criminal Law.

GBH is a serious physical injury inflicted on a person by the deliberate action of another. Injuries sustained by intentional GBH have the potential to be life changing for a victim; as such the penalties for individuals found ‘Guilty’ are highly severe.

Section 18 of the Offences against Person Act 1861 provides that, “Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily harm to any person, with intent, to do some grievous bodily harm to any person, or with intent to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detainer of any person, shall be guilty of felony.”

Elements of Offence

Under the existing criminal law, the prosecution would need to establish two elements to establish the liabilities of the acid attackers. They are known as Actus Reus (known as guilty act) & Mens Rea (known as guilty mind). Actus reus of acid attack would include the elements of unlawfully wound or inflict GBH on another person by throwing acid.

To establish the Mens rea element under s.18 would requires an Intention of the acid attacker to cause GBH upon the victim by using acid or corrosive substances.


If inflicted GBH intentionally by throwing acid upon the victim, contrary to Section 18 of OAPA, the maximum sentence for the offender would be for life imprisonment.

Attack spiked across the capital

Despite the fact that under the current Criminal Law, an acid attacker could be given life sentence for causing GBH upon the victims, yet recently acid attack have spiked across the capital.

Hence Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that People who carry out horrific acid attack could be jailed for life as part of plans for a massive Government crackdown.

Government to review

Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced a review will be undertaken into punishments for the brutal attacks. Ms Rudd said she wanted attackers who use noxious liquids as a weapon to “feel the full force of the law” in the proposed overhaul of current sentence guidelines.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) guidance to prosecutors will now be reviewed to ensure it makes clear that acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons, and what is required to prove intent.

New guidance will also be issued to police officers on preventing attacks, searching potential attackers for harmful substances and responding to victims at the scene.

The Government will aim to put in place measures which restrict the sale of such substances by retailers. The Home Office said it will work with police and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether powers available to the courts, including sentencing, are sufficient.


The foregoing discussion reveals that among all other criminal offences, acid attacks are considered as the most horrific crime. This crime has a devastating effect on victims, both physically and emotionally. The government should take immediate step to prevent these sickening attacks happening in the first place. The Government’s action plan should include a wide-ranging review of the law enforcement and criminal justice response, of existing legislation, of access to harmful products and of the support offered to victim.

To combat acid attack, the Government should create new legislation to ensure that everyone working within the criminal justice system, from police officers to prosecutors, has the powers they need to punish severely those who commit these appalling crimes, with a view to ensure that those who commit these terrible crimes feel the full force of the law. In the new legislation to combat acid attacks, sentences should reflect the seriousness of the offences and victims should be given the immediate support they need.

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Barrister M. A. Muid Khan
Barrister M. A. Muid Khan is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX. He was declared as the Best Human Rights Lawyer of England & Wales by Bar Council, Law Society & CILEX. He can be contacted at