Criminal justice

Sentencing Council consultation on firearms offences guidelines – Law Society response

The proposals

The Sentencing Council held a consultation on draft guidelines for sentencing offenders for the most commonly sentenced firearms offences. The consultation ran from 9 October to 14 January.

The aim of the guidelines, which will apply to adult offenders in England and Wales, is to ensure consistency in sentencing and appropriate sentence levels for the unlawful possession of firearms.

There are currently no sentencing guidelines in the Crown Court and only one for use in magistrates’ courts.

There are eight draft guidelines covering the offences below under the Firearms Act 1968:

  • possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited weapon or ammunition
  • possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition/shotgun without a certificate
  • possession of a firearm or ammunition by person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition
  • carrying a firearm in a public place
  • possession of firearm with intent to endanger life
  • possession of firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence
  • use of firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest/possession of firearm or imitation firearm while committing a Schedule 1 offence/carrying firearm or imitation firearm with criminal intent
  • manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition

Our view

We welcome the guideline, which is a comprehensive set of guidelines for the most commonly committed firearms offence.

They will greatly assist judges and criminal law legal professionals to achieve a just sentence in each case and promote consistency across courts, but at the same time enable judges and magistrates to exercise their discretion when sentencing.

We commented on some aspects of the culpability and harm factors, as well as the suggested aggravating and mitigating factors.

We pointed out some of the difficulties that can arise following the death of a gun certificate holder, where the executor comes into possession of a firearm and may inadvertently commit an offence of possession without a certificate.

What this means for solicitors

The guideline will assist all criminal solicitors in making sentencing submissions to magistrates’ and Crown Courts in relation to firearms offenders.

It will enable criminal defence practitioners to more accurately predict likely sentences and advise their clients.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 14 January.

The Sentencing Council will consider all responses and publish the final guideline in due course.

View the consultation on the Sentencing Council website

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