Is Pepper Spray illegal in the UK?

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In the United Kingdom, the legal status of pepper spray, a common self-defence tool in various countries, is clear-cut under current legislation. Classified alongside firearms and offensive weapons, the ownership, carry, and use of pepper spray by the general public are strictly prohibited. This article delves into the UK’s legal framework surrounding pepper spray, elucidating the rationale behind its classification, potential legal repercussions for contravention, and legal alternatives for personal safety.

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The prohibition of pepper spray in the UK is primarily governed by two pieces of legislation: the Firearms Act 1968 and the Offensive Weapons Act 1996. Together, these laws define the legal boundaries concerning weapons, including those intended for self-defence.

Firearms Act 1968, Section 5(1)(b): “A person is guilty of an offence if, without the authority of the Defence Council, he has in his possession, or purchases or acquires, or manufactures, sells or transfers any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing.”

Additionally, the Offensive Weapons Act 1996 categorises items explicitly intended for use as personal protection devices that discharge a noxious substance as offensive weapons, thereby making it illegal to possess such items.

Rationale Behind the Prohibition

The UK’s stance on pepper spray stems from a broad approach to weapon control, aimed at minimising harm and ensuring public safety. The classification of pepper spray as a firearm under UK law reflects the potential for misuse and the serious health risks it poses, including the risk of severe pain, respiratory distress, and blindness.

The possession of pepper spray carries significant legal consequences, including arrest, prosecution, and, if convicted, penalties such as fines and imprisonment. The severity of the punishment reflects the item’s classification as a firearm, with offences potentially leading to:

  • Imprisonment: Conviction for possession of an offensive weapon can result in a prison sentence, the length of which depends on the specifics of the offence and the defendant’s criminal history.
  • Fines: In addition to, or instead of imprisonment, offenders may be subject to substantial fines.

Given the prohibition on pepper spray, individuals seeking lawful means of self-defence may consider several alternatives that comply with UK law, such as personal alarms. These devices emit a loud noise when activated, drawing attention to the user and potentially deterring an attacker. It is important for individuals to familiarise themselves with the characteristics of legally permissible self-defence tools.


The ownership and use of pepper spray as a self-defence tool are unequivocally illegal in the United Kingdom, classified under legislation that seeks to control weapons and ensure public safety. While the intention behind carrying pepper spray may be for personal protection, the legal implications of its possession are severe. Individuals are encouraged to explore legal alternatives for self-defence and to remain informed about the laws governing personal safety devices.


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