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New guidelines for Firearms Sentencing from January 2021

The Sentencing Council has recently issued new guidance covering the sentencing of Firearms offences following an extensive consultation period. The new guidance will come into force on 1st January 2021.

At present, there are no sentencing guidelines for Firearms offences in the Crown Courts and while they do not occur frequently, they are serious offences. The consultation has aimed to introduce consistency with the Magistrates Courts guidance and deal with a number of issues.

There are 8 new guidelines issues for the offences of:

  1. Possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited firearm or ammunition
  2. Possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition shotgun without a certificate
  3. Possession of a firearm or ammunition by a person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition
  4. Carrying a firearm in a public place
  5. Possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life
  6. Possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear or violence
  7. Use of a firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest/possession of firearm or imitation firearm while committing to Schedule 1 offence/carrying firearm or imitation firearm with criminal intent
  8. Manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition

The key changes

Sentencing disparity

The Sentencing Council undertook a thorough review of apparent disparities in sentencing outcomes. Their findings indicated that Black, Asian and other ethnic offenders had been dealt with more seriously by the courts for Firearms offences than White offenders. Possible reasons for the disparity were deeply explored and new sections have been added to the guidance asking sentencers to be aware of the evidence of disparity. These new sections explain there have been differences and there are many reasons for this and reminds sentencers to refer to the Equal Treatment Bench Book.

Vulnerable defendants

The culpability of vulnerable defendants was considered where they had been asked to hold a firearm for a third party. This was identified as having the potential for a significant difference in culpability for a person not knowing that it is a firearm they are holding, and one who knows it is a firearm and that it could be used for criminal activity. The culpability factors were redrafted to include lower culpability where there is no use, or intention to use the firearm.

Other issues

During the period of consultation, other issues were identified and have been addressed in the new guidelines. Respondents requested additional guidance on what could amount to exception circumstances that could be found not to impose the minimum term. The Sentencing Council said there was some sympathy for those who requested specific guidance but that “as the test if one of exceptional circumstances, it follows that these cannot be defined”.

For detailed information on the new guidance, visit the Sentencing Council website. If you require the support of a high-quality Criminal Barrister, get in touch today.


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