Why certificates and insurance are worth more than a prawn sandwich

23 November 2015 by Tim Ryan, Warners Solicitors

I was recently contacted by a shoot owner, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being accused of “Ratner’s syndrome.” (Gerald Ratner, you’ll recall, wiped £500 million from the value of his firm when he said in an interview his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.) His dilemma was this. He requires guns to have valid certificates and insurances and for several years now he has insisted on copies of their documentation to be supplied at the time they make the booking. While most are happy to oblige, some, a very few, are not so cooperative and argue that it’s not something they’ve ever been asked to comply with before. Over the years, he’s found serious breaches of the law, most worryingly, he says, people booking shooting without a certificate, who, when questioned, are in fact barred from having one as a consequence of a criminal conviction. The usual comment from their companions is “oh it’s ok he’s shot with us several times a year for many years and always borrows a gun from one or other of the group.” His concern was that some shoot organisers and guns themselves, through ignorance, stupidity or downright denial are not so careful. Under section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968, a person who has been sentenced to imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for three months or more “shall not at any time have a firearm or ammunition in his possession”. The prohibition covers all firearms and ammunition, not just those for which a certificate is required, and therefore includes, air weapons, airgun pellets and shotgun cartridges. For a sentence of less than three years, the ban is for five years; for three years or more, the ban is for life. The prohibition can only be lifted by application to the Crown Court, otherwise a prohibited person commits a serious offence by merely handling any gun or ammunition, under any circumstances and for however short a time.The penalty is imprisonment for up to 5 years. That also applies to anyone who transfers a gun or ammunition to a person he knows or has reasonable grounds to believe is prohibited, and to anyone else who encourages or assists the crime (as a consequence of sections 44-49 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, codifying what was already the position at common law with regard to those who “aid, abet, counsel or procure”). I’m sure there are still many guns and some shoots (albeit probably only “family/friends” or “farmers” type shoots) for whom, despite the relentless calls for tighter controls on firearms licensing, the message has not yet got home. Failures to comply with the highest possible standards where firearms are concerned will be treated very seriously by the police, and where offences are committed expect no leniency from the courts because none will be given. There are, of course, perfectly legitimate circumstances under which a non-certificate holder, other than a prohibited person, can borrow either a shotgun or a rifle, which are set out in the legislation. It defies belief, however, that any reputable shoot organiser could consider it appropriate to allow any person to shoot, where he is not able to satisfy himself that the strict requirements of the law are being met and that valid public liability insurance is in place in the event of an accident. I doubt very much whether the eminently sensible approach being followed by my enquirer would ever lead to a loss of any business worth having. The real danger is that those small number who take a more relaxed view, are not only putting their own liberty and livelihoods on the line, but also risk tarnishing the reputation of the whole shooting industry in the process.

Tim Ryan is a Partner at Warners Solicitors, specialising in country sports and firearms licensing law. For advice and assistance, contact Tim on 01732 770 660 or email t.ryan@warners-solicitors.co.uk