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Criminal Defence Articles

What happens for a first firearms offence?

Firearms Offences

Firearms offences in the UK are taken extremely seriously due to their potential to cause significant harm. These offences cover a range of activities, from possessing a firearm without a licence to using one in the commission of a crime. The gravity of these offences is reflected in the severity of the penalties, which can include lengthy prison sentences. If you or someone you care about is facing a charge related to firearms, it is vital that you seek expert legal advice. This article aims to demystify the concept of firearms offences in the UK. We will explore what constitutes a firearms offence, list some examples of firearms offences, discuss the legal process if you are suspected of such an offence, delve into the sentencing guidelines, and consider the likelihood of imprisonment for first-time offenders.

What are firearms offences in the UK?

In the UK, firearms offences are primarily governed by the Firearms Act 1968 and subsequent amendments. This legislation outlines what constitutes a firearm, who can legally own and use firearms, and the penalties for breaches of these laws. Key sections of the Act include:

  • Section 1: This section deals with the possession, purchase, or acquisition of a firearm or ammunition without a certificate.
  • Section 2: Governs shotguns, which are subject to less stringent controls than other firearms but still require a shotgun certificate.
  • Section 5: This is a critical section that lists prohibited weapons, such as automatic firearms and certain types of handguns. Possession of a Section 5 firearm is a very serious offence, often resulting in severe penalties.
  • Section 16A: Addresses the use of a firearm to resist arrest or facilitate escape, elevating the severity of the crime significantly.

If you are facing a firearms offence, understanding these sections is crucial as they define the legal framework within which firearms offences are assessed and prosecuted. In other words, they define what might happen to you if the case against you proceeds to trial.

What are some examples of firearms offences in the UK?

  • Possessing a firearm without a valid certificate.
  • Carrying a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.
  • Possession of a prohibited weapon, such as an automatic rifle or a handgun.
  • Using a firearm in the commission of another offence, like armed robbery.
  • Altering, repairing, or testing a firearm without proper authorization.
  • Selling or transferring a firearm to someone not legally permitted to possess it.
  • Importing or exporting firearms without the correct licence or authorisation.
  • Manufacturing firearms or ammunition without a proper licence.
  • Being in possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
  • Being in possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.
  • Using a firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest.
  • Providing false information or making false declarations to obtain a firearm certificate.
  • Failing to secure a firearm properly, leading to a risk of it being accessed by unauthorised persons.
  • Trespassing with a firearm on private property.
  • Altering the identification marks of a firearm.
  • Possession of ammunition without a certificate or authorization.

What happens if you are suspected of committing firearms offences in the UK?

The process following suspicion of a firearms offence is rigorous, reflecting the seriousness of these crimes. The police will be involved along with other specialist units and teams, where required. The investigative and prosecution process typically involves several stages:

  • Investigation: This is the initial phase where law enforcement gathers evidence. It may include searches of property, interviews with witnesses, and forensic analysis. If a firearm is found, its origin, ownership, and use are thoroughly investigated.
  • Arrest and Custody: If there is sufficient evidence, the suspect will be arrested. While in custody, legal rights, including the right to remain silent and access to legal representation, are imperative. Ensure you have legal representation at all stages.
  • Interviews: Interviews are another pivotal part of the process. The suspect’s statements can significantly influence the case’s direction. Legal representation during these interviews is vital if you are to ensure a successful defence and avoid self-incrimination.
  • Charging and Bail: If there is enough evidence, the suspect will be charged. Decisions about bail depend on factors like the nature of the offence and the suspect’s background. The CPS must ensure they have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction if they want to proceed with a prosecution (to do so otherwise would be a waste of public resources).
  • Court Proceedings: These begin with a hearing at a Magistrates’ Court and can progress to the Crown Court, especially for more serious offences. The process includes presenting evidence, witness testimonies, and legal arguments from prosecution and defence.
  • Sentencing: If found guilty, sentencing follows. For firearms offences, the court considers factors like the type of weapon, the context of its use, and the defendant’s criminal history.

Throughout this process, the role of legal representation is indispensable in navigating the complexities of the law and ensuring your rights as a suspect or a defendant are protected. If you are unsure about what might happen, get in touch with a qualified criminal defence solicitor who specialises in firearms offences.

What is the sentence for firearms offences in the UK?

In the UK, sentencing for firearms offences is guided by a combination of statutory provisions and the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, which aim to ensure consistency and proportionality in sentencing. The sentence for a firearms offence can vary significantly based on several factors, including the type of offence, the nature of the weapon involved, and the circumstances of the offence.

The Sentencing Council provides detailed guidelines for various firearms offences. These guidelines consider:

  • Culpability: This includes the role of the offender, whether the offence was planned, and the extent of any threat or harm.
  • Harm: This considers the potential or actual harm caused by the offence, including the type of firearm used and its capability to cause harm.

Aggravating factors can lead to harsher sentences. Some of these include:

  • Use of the firearm in committing another crime (e.g., robbery or assault).
  • Possession of a prohibited firearm, such as automatic weapons.
  • Evidence of premeditation or planning.
  • Previous convictions, particularly for violent or firearms-related crimes.
  • Using the firearm to facilitate escape from law enforcement.
  • Involvement of vulnerable individuals, such as minors, in the offence.
  • Evidence of organised criminal activity or gang affiliation.

Mitigating factors may result in more lenient sentences. Common mitigating factors include:

  • Lack of previous convictions or good character references.
  • Evidence of remorse or steps taken towards rehabilitation.
  • Situations where the possession of the firearm was momentary and without criminal intent.
  • Circumstances where the offender was coerced or under duress.
  • Demonstrating that the firearm was not operable or lacked ammunition.
  • Voluntarily surrendering the firearm to authorities.
  • Mental health considerations or other personal vulnerabilities.

Note that certain offences, such as possession of a prohibited firearm (under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968), carry mandatory minimum sentences. For adults, this is typically a minimum of 5 years’ imprisonment. For those under 18, the minimum is 3 years. Judges have limited discretion to deviate from these minimums, and only in exceptional circumstances.

To better understand what the sentence might be in your specific case, get in touch with a qualified criminal defence solicitor today.

Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing firearms offences?

The likelihood of imprisonment for a first-time firearms offence depends on the offence’s specifics. While there are mandatory minimum sentences for some offences, courts have some discretion, especially when mitigating factors are present.

For less serious offences, such as possessing a firearm without a certificate, alternatives to custodial sentences, like fines or community orders, may be considered, especially if the offender shows remorse and a willingness to comply with the law.

That said, for more serious offences, particularly those involving prohibited weapons or use of a firearm in committing a crime, imprisonment is highly likely, even for first-time offenders.

Where to get further help

Understanding firearms offences in the UK is crucial for anyone facing charges of this very serious nature. This article has provided an overview of what constitutes a firearms offence, examples of such offences, the legal process if you are suspected of committing one, sentencing guidelines, and considerations for first-time offenders. But remember, each case is unique and seeking expert legal advice is vital if you need representation or just have questions about how a case like this might progress. For more information and a free consultation, contact the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors as soon as possible. Our expert team will guide you through the complexities of the law and help in formulating a robust defence strategy.

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