Just to try and bring this to a close and give the moderators a break, these are some guidelines to try and help.
I have to stress that I am neither a Solicitor nor a Barrister (â€œlawyerâ€ to our American cousins).
I am going to try and explain the legal position as I understand it. This is based on a small amount of legal studies, which I had to pass to gain a degree in Environmental Health. I have also had to undertake additional training for my professional exams.
Because of my full time job â€“ Environmental Health (locksmithing is more a paid hobby) I spend time with police officers and other law enforcement personnel.
1. Possession of lockpicks is not a criminal offence. There is absolutely nothing wrong with owning picks or other locksmith tools either purpose built or home made. Should you be found in possession of lockpicks or other tool which could be used to gain entry illegally you may be considered to be â€œgoing equippedâ€.
2. Tools for â€œgoing equippedâ€ can include (but are not limited to) hammers, screwdrivers, mica/steel shims, crowbar, strimmer wire, etc. There is no restriction on time of day, as others have already correctly stated. When my tools are with me I either have my warrant card with me or a copy of the Courtâ€™s warrant of entry.
If Iâ€™m carrying out private locksmithing work I have the contact details of the person who called me, an ID card and depending on gut instinct, Iâ€™ve called the local Police Station and advised them that I will be attending a property (get the name of the civilian staff member youâ€™ve spoken to).
3. If you are stopped and tools are found in your possession (e.g. in your vehicle or on your person). The burden of proof will fall on you to prove that you have a valid reason to have them. If you are unable to do this to the satisfaction of the Officer, you may find yourself arrested. You will be taken back to the station and â€œprocessedâ€ (fingerprinted, searched and DNA samples taken), itâ€™s at this point you may wish to kiss your tools goodbye.
4. It doesnâ€™t stop there (Varjeal or one of the other moderators may already cut this down). You will most likely end up in the Magistrates Court. This is not like the Crown Court you are likely to see on television. There may be three â€œlayâ€ Magistrates (people who volunteer) or one â€œStipendiaryâ€ Magistrate (trained and paid a stipend). There is no Jury.
(a) If you are stupid enough to have picked a lock which you do not own, nor have the permission of the owner/owners executive the arresting officer will suggest that you were stopped in the process of committing a criminal act (just remember how easy this is, youâ€™ve been found in possession of lockpicks which have no other legitimate purpose other than to open locks (duh).
(b) The fact that you have what is still considered by many to be restricted knowledge would also imply that you are a career criminal (even though you may have a clean record and are kind to children and animals).
(c) Stating that you belong to a â€œsportâ€ locksmithing group would hold no sway. It is not a recognised sport such as baseball or cricket. It is not a recognised professional body (unlike MLA or ALOA). If you are not a member of either of these organisations and donâ€™t have a proper permanent advert (mine is in Yellow Pages) you are not going to convince them.
(d) The maximum sentence you can receive from a Magistrate is 6 months prison. Some people who feel that they are familiar with the legal system may suggest that you opt for â€œtrial by Juryâ€ on the grounds that you are more likely to be acquitted. I would suggest that you visit your local reference library and look at the case law, I would suggest the case of R. v. Harrison (1974), where the individual was in possession of lockpicks, the Judge directed the Jury to find the individual (Harrison) guilty as the tool(s) concerned had no other possible purpose. Oh and just as an aside, the Crown Court can impose custodial sentences significantly greater than 6 months.
Iâ€™m sorry if you feel this has gone on a bit, but itâ€™s only scratching the surface and I must re-iterate that I am not a legal expert and this is not a definitive guide. Iâ€™m just someone with a bit of experience which I feel should be shared to help prevent you from falling foul of the law.
If you enjoy lockpicking, donâ€™t want to lose your tools and get a criminal record to boot, do not take chances carrying your tools.
Here ends the lesson