Appeal against the revocation of a Shotgun Licence/ Refusal of a shotgun licence Part 1: What is the law and what can I do?
For many, a shotgun licence is very important to both their livelihood and their leisure. However, given the fact that the decision in respect of shotgun and firearms licences rests entirely in hands of the various chief constables around the country, there exists a huge variation in the standards being applied across the UK as to the granting and revocation of shotgun licences. The absence of a centralised authority governing application decisions has led to concerns that the existing law is not being consistently applied by the various police forces. The Home Office has attempted to put this right by issuing guidance in March 2015 which attempts to give a definitive picture as to the law and the standards to be applied in making shotgun licence applications and crucially in the tests and standards to be applied if there is the refusal of a shotgun licence or if there is the revocation of a shotgun licence.
In this series of three articles, I shall consider the law and guidance and go on to look at the avenues of redress that may be available if a wrong decision is made by the authorities. This first article covers making the application, an introduction to the test to be applied and a summary of the conditions which may be applied when a firearms certificate is granted. The second article will go on to examine the tests in more detail, as this is what will determine the success of the application. Finally, in the third article I explore appeals and revocation of a licence.
Making an application for a firearms certificate
It is relatively simple to apply for a firearms certificate: one must fill out and submit a form F1O1 and a form F125 for referees. A common reason for forms being returned is that they are incomplete, so ensure that they are fully filled out. It is also important that the forms are filled out fully and truthfully. This especially applies to the disclosure of criminal convictions, even those which are old or considered as ‘spent’ as well as those imposed outside of the United Kingdom. As the form is backed by a statement of truth it is an offence to knowingly make false statements on the forms, and this is backed by sanctions under the criminal law.
When the forms have been received in order to decide whether a person is fit to own a firearm, the licensing authority will conduct a number of checks which will usually include interviews, visits to the person’s property to assess security, criminal records checks and references from friends. In addition, the applicant’s GP may be contacted.
In respect of interviews there are no formal rules in place for how the interview and inspections should take place and practice will vary dependent upon the police force involved. However guidance is given by the Home Office and in The Firearm Security Handbook (“FSH”). As far as the interview is concerned, there are no limits on what the police can ask and there are no legal obligations upon the applicant to answer although the police may take into account the level of cooperation displayed by the applicant in deciding whether to grant the licence. When looking at the issue of security the FSH states that the police should take account of:
- the property crime in the area
- the remoteness of the applicant’s premises and
- the extent to which the property is occupied etc.
The test to be applied in a Firearms Certificate application
There is a presumption in favour of an application for a firearms certificate being granted: see the authorities of Anderson v Neilans and Joy v Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway. However this presumption may be rebutted by the application of the relevant tests to be applied.
The test for firearms against section 27 of the 1968 Act 12.5 Section 27(1) of the 1968 Act (as amended) states that:
“A firearm certificate shall be granted where the chief officer of police is satisfied that:
(a) the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm to which section 1 of this Act applies and is not a person prohibited by this Act from possessing such as firearm;
(b) that he has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the firearm or ammunition in respect of which the application is made; and
(c) that in all the circumstances the applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace”.
12.6 Section 30A(2) of the 1968 Act (as amended) states that:
“The [firearm] certificate may be revoked if the chief officer of police has reason to believe:
(a) that the holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm; or
(b) that the holder can no longer be permitted to have a firearm or ammunition to which the certificate relates in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace”.
The test for shotguns is as follows: Section 28(1) of the 1968 Act states that
“subject to subsection (1A) below, a shotgun certificate shall be granted or, as the case may be, renewed by the chief officer of police if he is satisfied that the applicant can be permitted to possess a shotgun without danger to the public safety or to the peace”.
12.8 Section 30C(1) of the 1968 Act (as amended) states that the shotgun certificate may be revoked on the grounds that the chief officer of police is satisfied that the holder is prohibited from possessing a shotgun, or that they can’t be permitted to possess one without danger to the public safety or to the peace.
Section 27 does allow chief officers of police discretion to make further enquiries into applications should they wish to do so. To do this, forces can use their own forms in addition to those which are specified in the legislation. Such forms, though, are non-statutory and there is no obligation for applicants to complete them in addition to those which are legally required.
Chief officers should give the reasons for their decision to refuse an application for a firearm certificate, and the applicant should be informed that they may appeal against this decision. Appeals will be dealt with in more detail later.
Section 27(2) of the 1968 Act gives the chief officer of police powers to attach conditions to firearm certificates where necessary. In the case of 'R v Wakefield Crown Court ex parte Oldfield (1978)' the court gave expression to the common law requirement that a person must exercise individual judgement in all cases. Section 29(1) of the 1968 Act gives the chief officer power to vary, by a notice in writing, any such condition not prescribed by the rules made by the Secretary of State. The notice may require the holder to deliver the certificate to the chief officer within twenty-one days for the purpose of amending the conditions. The certificate may be revoked if the holder fails to comply with such a requirement. 10.36 Possible conditions, which may be applied are listed at Appendix 3 as a guide to firearms licensing officers. They should only be used, where the individual circumstances require it for public safety. Exceptionally, chief officers of police may impose other conditions appropriate to individual circumstances. As the courts have held ('R v Cambridge Crown Court ex parte Buckland, 1998') that there is no right of appeal against the imposition of conditions (as opposed to a refusal to grant or renew a certificate) chief officers will wish to be cautious in imposing conditions that might amount to a constructive refusal to grant or renew a certificate, that is, additional conditions that would make possession or use so difficult as to be redundant in practice. There is a right of appeal against a decision to vary existing conditions in section 29, but not against the initial decision to impose conditions.
There is no requirement to establish ‘good reason’ for additional conditions or the addition of quarry species to an existing condition where ‘good reason’ already exists for the possession of a firearm in the first instance (See chapter 13). Firearms should be conditioned to provide flexibility with quarry shooting by allowing all lawful quarry (see Appendix 3). 10.39 Conditions setting out arbitrary time limits for acquiring firearms and ammunition should not be imposed. However, the chief officer may during the life of a certificate or at the time of certificate renewal enquire why an authority to acquire has not been exercised and consider that part of the renewal in the light of the reason given. It should be borne in mind that a collector may face difficulty in finding examples of collectible or heritage firearms suitable for their collections and that a time limit should not apply where reasonable attempts to procure the firearm(s) concerned are being or have been made. 9 Guide on Firearms Licensing Law 10.40 Chief officers of police are empowered to impose conditions if they think that the circumstances of the individual case mean that the condition is necessary to ensure the effective operation of the firearms controls and to minimise the risk to public safety. Forces should note that those conditions relating to otherwise prohibited firearms and ammunition such as expanding ammunition are statutory. The chief officer does not have discretion to grant a certificate for such firearms and ammunition beyond the terms of the statutory exemptions for these items.
POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2015