Shotguns and Firearms, revocations and refusals – Jo Morris explores the options.

16 August 2023

Appealing the Revocation of Firearms Licences

Firearm ownership is controversial.  The law seeks to preserve public safety and therefore restrict possession of potentially lethal weapons.  However, contrary to popular belief, ownership of weapons for legitimate purposes is a qualified right in England and Wales rather than a privilege.  Any person who can satisfy the criteria at S27(1) or S28(1) Firearms Act 1968 is entitled to a certificate licensing him to keep firearms. The language of the statue is clear; the Chief Constable “shall” grant a certificate if the conditions are met.  This can be compared to the position in Northern Ireland where the Chief Officer enjoys an absolute discretion upon the issue restrained only be judicial review. The aim of the law in England and Wales is that those who are suitable to be certificate holders should not unreasonably be denied that right.  As public concern about weapons rises, Chief Constables become ever more risk averse and revocations increase. A person aggrieved at the decision of the Chief Constable does have the option to appeal to the Crown Court.

Revocation of a certificate can be caused by wide ranging issues.  Some of them are no more than one would expect. Non compliance with the four conditions that appear on every FAC and SGC is the quickest way to lose a certificate.  The conditions exist to minimise any danger to the wider public and their breach is a stand alone criminal offence potentially punishable by imprisonment. On the face of it, a person who does not comply with the conditions of their certificate cannot be trusted to be a certificate holder.

However, the powers of the Chief Constable to revoke a certificate are far more comprehensive than simply a response to breach of conditions.  Many criminal offences lead to revocation. S21 of the Firearms Act 1968 imposes a prohibition from owning any firearm or ammunition for five years upon anyone who has been sentenced to more than three months and less than two years.  In cases where the sentence is greater than two years the prohibition is for life. On its face, this seems reasonable although, of course, there are many offences, such as fraud, that led to a lengthy custodial sentence but do not suggest a failure to control temper.

Another reason for revocation can be that a person has developed intemperate habits.  A single conviction for drink or drug driving will not usually be sufficient to revoke a firearms certificate that is otherwise properly held unless there are aggravating features such as a particularly high reading or some other form of excessively dangerous behaviour.  It will certainly result in a warning letter. A second incident, whether conviction or not, will be considered a pattern of behaviour giving rise to concern about the certificate holder – Luke v Little [1980], Chief Constable of Essex v Peter Germain [1991]. However, there have been cases, such as Lubbock v Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders [2001] where the Sheriff ruled that revocation was justified following a single incident of drink driving because the appellant’s attitude towards the offence lacked contrition.  This is a Scots case and so not binding upon Judges in England and Wales but clearly a persuasive authority in the absence of authority to the contrary.

Yet more controversially, the High Court confirmed in Chief Constable of Essex v Campbell [2012] EWHC 2331 that mere allegations could be a legitimate consideration for revocation. In fairness, Mr. Campbell was a man with historical convictions for violence who had come to the attention of police on the occasion in question when his partner reported serious violence against her coupled with breaches of the certificate’s conditions.  Mr. Campbell was not prosecuted for the assault upon his partner but was prosecuted for the breaches. In the case of most revocations, it is possible to distinguish the certificate holder from Mr. Campbell. However, in the case of R (on the application of Mason) v Winchester Crown Court 18 May 2018 allegations alone, albeit multiple and from different sources, were adequate to revoke a shotgun and firearms licence.

Of even greater concern is the recent confirmation in R (on the application of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis) v Kingston on Thames Crown Court [2023] EWHC 1938 that the power existed to adopt a closed material procedure in a firearms appeal, albeit only where it is critical to do so to protect a public interest criteria. 

Nevertheless, any person aggrieved by the decision of the Chief Constable to revoke or vary a certificate does have the option to appeal that decision to the Crown Court – S44 Firearms Act 1968.  In the event that negotiation with the police fails, an appeal should be pursued. It is a costly exercise as an appellant who succeeds will rarely recover his costs unless it can be shown that the Chief Constable acted in a capricious or unreasonable manner but he will face costs if he loses.  There remains a reasonable chance of success, depending on the facts of the individual case, if an appeal is properly prepared.

Although the normal rules of evidence do not apply as this is not a criminal hearing, that is a double edged sword.  It does mean the Chief Constable can introduce evidence of allegations without calling an accuser. However, a Judge can be addressed upon the weight that should be given to hearsay evidence. That is particularly the case if an allegation was made to police whilst angry or in drink and not supported in court by a person who would be perfectly available and competent to maintain the allegation if true.  In addition, in the case of domestic disputes, it is always open to the appellant to call their partner to give evidence in their favour. It also means that the appellant can rebut that evidence by calling a wide array of witnesses who can speak to the unreliability of the allegation.  Further, character witnesses can be called to address the allegation of intemperate habits.

Also, contrary to popular belief, the burden of proof is not fully reversed upon the appellant.  There is a dual burden of proof. The Chief Constable must show that his decision to revoke a certificate was correct and reasonable and an appellant must show that he remains a suitable person to have a certificate.  This can be done by introducing evidence that is unrestricted by the rules of evidence which is a significant advantage. Evidence that any drugs or alcohol dependency has been addressed can be especially useful and can be done from hearsay records.  

Appeals against revocation decisions can and do succeed with proper representation, evidence gathering and case presentation.

16 August 2023


Jo Morris

Call 2003

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