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UNFAIRNESS IN FIREARMS LAW LICENSING - DAVID BARRINGTON BARNES


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It’s pertinent to point out here that the Firearms Department has an administrative role: literally to administer firearms licensing law. This brings me to the first unfairness I wish to highlight, which is the subject of costs in firearms act appeals.

 

UNFAIRNESS IN FIREARMS LAW LICENSING

BY

DAVID BARRINGTON BARNES.

Almost every modern gamekeeper will hold a Firearms Certificate (“FAC”) and a Shot Gun Certificate (“SGC”). These enable him to possess the tools of his trade- rifles and ammunition and shot guns- legally and within the provisions of the Firearms Acts. Although there are a few barrack room lawyers amongst the gamekeepering fraternity, as indeed there are in every peer group, I think it’s fair to say a typical gamekeeper only wants the basic service provided by their local Firearms Licensing Department. He wants his grant, renewal and variation applications dealt with in a timeous manner. If there are any issues he wants to be able to talk to his Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) in the hope and expectation a resolution can be achieved. As a professional, the demands he makes of the Licensing Department are, or should be, light.

My anecdotal impression is that at this level the existing and now time tested firearms licensing system works pretty well. I don’t hear of many cases of delay and difficulty over renewals or variations. Obviously the turnaround time varies between different Firearms Licensing Departments but most of these now work towards target times and some routinely achieve these. Although the competence of FEOs inevitably varies there is a good reservoir of knowledge and experience amongst them with some FEOs being really top quality operators. Generally, Firearms Licensing managers and their staff will have a good knowledge of the Firearms Acts and the Home Office Guide to Firearms Licensing Law.

It’s pertinent to point out here that the Firearms Department has an administrative role: literally to administer firearms licensing law. This brings me to the first unfairness I wish to highlight, which is the subject of costs in firearms act appeals. A refused or revoked Firearms Act applicant has a right of appeal to his local Crown Court. If his appeal is unsuccessful, he can expect to have pay all or some of the Police costs in the case. As these will include the Police solicitor’s and barrister’s fees the quantum of them will sometimes be in four figures. This is because these Appeals are classed as civil proceedings, even though they are heard in the Crown Court, the mainstream business of which is usually the processing of criminal cases.

This may seem fair enough but, should he succeed in his Appeal, the successful appellant will not get costs from the Police. Unless it can be shown the Chief Constable has acted unreasonably or in bad faith then no order that he pay the Appellant’s costs will be made against him and the appellant will be left with the responsibility of paying his own. The authority for this is the 1998 High Court case of THE CHIEF CONSTABLE OF DERBYSHIRE v GOODMAN and TAYLOR. Notwithstanding these two gentlemen were successful in their appeals against the Chief Constable’s refusal of their original applications the High Court overturned the costs order made against him in the inferior (Crown) Court on the grounds he had acted in good faith and reasonably and had been operating in a supervisory role for the protection of the public.

Some Police Licensing Department representatives have been using this case for years to deter refused or revoked Certificate holders from appealing. Understandably, a local Crown Court Appeal in which the appellant usually requires a barrister to represent him is often too expensive for an ordinary citizen anyway. When he realises he won’t recover his costs if he wins and will be at risk of paying the police costs if he loses he will likely have to give up and accept the refusal or revocation decision however wrong it is and however badly it affects his life.

This inherently unfair legal position as to costs has becoming increasingly important since the 2013 Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law superseded the 2002 Guidance. In his foreword to the new Guide the Minister for Policing observed that it’s updates included “reinforcing the importance of proper assessment, specifically with regards to domestic violence, when considering a person’s fitness to carry a firearm”.

In the new Guide at paras 12.28 and 12.29 specific reference is made to this. It’s suggested that on grants or renewals particular attention should be paid to domestic incidents, specifically violence and patterns of behaviour which give cause for concern. An incident of domestic violence should trigger the need for a police review. The Guide goes on to observe that “evidence( including a history) of domestic violence and abuse will indicate that an individual should not be permitted to possess a firearm or shotgun”. The implementation of this new regime is set out in some detail in paras 12.30-12.37, which I may revisit in another article.

However what I am concerned with here is the unfair and unreasonable way in which the new Guide is being applied. It’s reached a point at which wives, partners or girl friends in unhappy relationships seemingly only have to call the Police and claim the husband or cohabitee has a gun to trigger a review and, more and more frequently, revocation. After all, if he is a certificate holder he will have a gun so that part of the claim will be true. Increasingly, reference to unspecified, unproven threats or just expressions of “concern” are deemed sufficient to bring about a revocation decision.

Turning from “hot” matrimonial situations to historic ones, I am now even seeing refusal based on ancient incidents often allegedly involving a former wife or girlfriend from so long ago that the wretched would-be SGC or FAC holder can hardly remember her name let alone the details of any dispute between them. The interpretation of the law on this by some Firearms Departments is now so inflexible and oppressive that, if rolled out generally, would result in a massive reduction in the number of certificate holders. The losers would include persons in hot (current) and historic domestic situations – not just domestic abusers- persons involved in arguments ( as with a bad neighbour) or who have raised their voices (perhaps against a trespasser) or sworn at another ( road rage). The list of potential losers is endless and gamekeepers are particularly at risk as they are doing a job disliked by certain members of the public who like nothing more than to provoke and cause them trouble.

Gamekeepers are not saints and encounter more than their fair share of provocative situations and persons. It’s unreasonable to expect them to behave as if they are all the time and ridiculous to routinely extrapolate from all heated reactions however trivial, unproven or ancient) a propensity to abuse firearms or endanger the public by such use. The relevant police licensing staff need to be trained to review cases with genuine balance and calm so that they do not bring about unfair or unnecessary revocations.

Further, it is unfair to rely on the protected costs position described above to roll out revocation or refusal decisions which for financial reasons cannot often be appealed. This is not what parliament intended in including the appeal provisions in the 1968 Firearms Act. My company- SHOOTINGLAW LTD.- deals with numerous persons who have on the face of it good prospects but who cannot afford to pursue their appeal because of the costs situation in relation to their own finances. In such revocation and refusal cases we see justice denied and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. One last thought: time was, not so long ago, when skill at arms was admired. Sadly, it could just be that skill will once again be needed and should that come about then such FAC holders as are left could once again be required and valued.

 

Managing Director of ShootingLaw Ltd
Mobile: 07887 762275 or 07963 523293

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