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Testing Your Patience: Advice on Delays with Shotgun Certificate Renewals – by Laura Saunsbury

Many readers will no doubt be aware of their local licensing department making redundancies and/or merging with the licensing department of the adjoining force. An inevitable consequence of these cutbacks in staffing levels is that long delays in processing shotgun and firearm certificate applications – and also renewals – are fast becoming the norm. I have heard accounts from members that police in some parts of the country are advising certificate holders that their usual timescale for processing even routine renewals is now six months.

What is all the more troubling is that some licensing departments seem to be taking an overly relaxed approach and assuring shooters they need not worry if they do not receive their new certificate before their current one expires; they can continue to store their guns at home and even continue to go shooting. Interestingly, requests for confirmation in writing of such advice have generally been met with a certain reluctance.

In any event, I could not recommend that you follow such advice. In strict legal terms, from the day you cease to have a valid shotgun certificate you will then be in unlawful possession of your guns – which amounts to a criminal offence. Any verbal assurances you may have been given by your Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) that they would not seek to prosecute you in those circumstances may be cold comfort if you find yourself languishing in the cells of a police station, having been stopped and had your vehicle searched by a police constable on your way to a shoot. That officer may be unable to verify what you say immediately with your local licensing department or even that you submitted your renewal application some time ago. The chances of your protests falling on deaf ears are all the greater if you happen to be stopped outside the county or licensing area in which you live. You simply cannot count on the police or their lawyers to exercise their discretion sensibly not to prosecute you and, even if they do, you will probably have spent several hours at least in police custody before the issue is resolved and you are released.

A further practical difficulty with continuing to shoot after your certificate has expired is that, while you can legitimately possess shotgun cartridges without being the holder of a shotgun certificate, you will need to produce a valid certificate to purchase any more. So, even if you do decide you can safely rely on the assurances of your FEO, it is likely that a point will come when you will run out of ammunition.

So what can be done to avoid getting yourself into such potentially risky situations and ensure you can carry on shooting without interruption? First, make a diary entry six months before the expiry of your current certificate to contact your FEO. Find out from them what current local timescales for processing of applications are and also ask other certificate holders you know in the same area of their recent experiences. Be guided by what you find out and put your application in suitably early. Your FEO should thank you for your forward planning and so reciprocate by doing their best to process your renewal before your current certificate expires. Send your renewal application by recorded delivery so you have firm proof as to when it was submitted. If you are going to hand-deliver the paperwork to the licensing department or local police station, make sure you get a receipt from whomever you hand it to.

Once you have lodged your application, do not simply leave it and hope for the best. I’m not suggesting you make a nuisance of yourself, but it is worth following up your application periodically (once a month, say) to check on progress and whether there is any further information the police require from you. It is preferable to do this by email or letter rather than by telephone, so that you have a record of all further contact with your licensing department.

If there is still no sign of your new certificate two to three weeks before the expiry of your current one, send a letter or email to the head of your licensing department pointing out how long ago you submitted your renewal forms and asking them to issue you with a temporary Section 7 permit if they really can’t process your renewal before the due date. A Section 7 permit will not authorise you to acquire shotguns or ammunition, but you can lawfully continue to possess those you already have. You may therefore want to consider stocking up on ammunition while you still have a valid certificate enabling you to purchase it (obviously ensuring you do not exceed the quantities authorised on your certificate).

The police may decide it is just as easy to process your renewal and issue you with a new certificate rather than a temporary permit. But, in case you still have neither by a few days before your certificate expiry date, ensure you have arrangements in place to either put your guns into storage with a dealer or, ideally, to transfer them to a friend who has sufficient space for your guns in their cabinet. You should obviously notify your FEO of any temporary transfer and, in the case of a friend, enter your guns on their certificate. If you are going shooting on private land with a friend who has been granted shooting rights over it by the owner of the land or you are attending an organised clay shoot where the organisers have been granted a Section 11(6) exemption by their licensing department, you can legitimately shoot without holding a certificate. Check with the shoot organisers if you are in any doubt as to whether they have the relevant exemption.

In an ideal world such long delays ought to be treated as unacceptable, but these are not ideal times. In the current economic climate, the government is bound to look for savings wherever it can find them. Perhaps it is better to recognise that and adapt accordingly, rather than being hopelessly optimistic.

For readers who have been following my series of articles on the issue of extending the members’ insurance to cover legal costs in the event of certificate revocation, research by the CPSA is ongoing and I hope to be able to return to this topic early in the New Year.

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Community Sentences Now to Contain Higher Punative Levels

The Government has published new legislation, in the Crime and Courts Bill that will mean adult community sentences will now contain a punitive element.

Adult community sentences will now have to include some form of punishment, such as a fine, unpaid work, curfew or exclusion from certain areas. The new measures will mean more offenders could be forced to undertake activities such as cleaning up graffiti, clearing litter, and helping to rejuvenate their communities.

Currently only around two-thirds of community orders contain a punitive requirement, such as a curfew or community payback. Under the new reforms that will rise significantly to almost all adult community sentences.

Alongside the punitive element, community sentences will be reformed to:

  • Make use of new technology to track offenders during their sentence to protect the public and help prevent criminals committing further offences.
  • Make clear that courts can take into account criminals' belongings as well as their income when setting financial penalties. The Government will also review whether existing court powers to seize property (including items of significant value) in lieu of unpaid financial penalties give the courts the tools they need, or whether further powers are required.
  • Give the courts access to benefits and tax information from Department of Work and Pensions and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, so financial penalties can be set at level that will bite on offenders and be more effectively enforced.
  • Remove the £5,000 cap on compensation orders in the magistrates' courts.
  • Give courts powers to defer sentencing so that restorative justice can take place between victims and offenders, to encourage criminals to face up to the consequences of their actions.
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Home Office Consultation on Updating Guidance to Police on Firearms Law – by Laura Saunsbury

The Home Office is now working in earnest on producing the long awaited new edition of the Guidance. Drafts of the chapters that have so far been updated and revised have been circulated to shooting organisations for consultation and comment.

Our head of firearms law, Laura Saunsbury, along with her co-author in the British Firearms Handbook, barrister Nick Doherty, has submitted various proposals for improvement and clarification of the chapters relating to the procedure for handling firearm and shotgun certificate applications.

We frequently end up advising in appeals where inadequate or ambiguous medical information is what lies behind the Police’s decision to revoke or refuse to grant or renew a certificate. In many instances, the case is subsequently settled by agreement once the applicant’s medical history is clarified. If the volume of such revocations and refusals could be significantly reduced, this would reduce the number of appeals and so result in considerable cost savings, both for the Police and individual certificate holders.

Laura’s submission to the Home Office therefore includes proposals for significant changes to the sections of the Guidance relating to Police requests for medical evidence from applicants’ doctors. Placing a requirement on the Police to give doctors greater guidance when requesting medical reports as to the level of detail and relevant information required from the applicant’s medical history, should in turn lead to more comprehensive medical reports. In many cases, this could satisfy Police concerns about the applicant rather than leaving those concerns unresolved and so leading the Police to refuse to grant or renew a firearm or shotgun certificate for that individual.

Perhaps the most controversial amongst Laura’s proposals to the Home Office is a shift in the burden as to who should pay for medical reports required by the Police for processing firearm and shotgun certificate applications and renewals. The current edition of the Guidance makes the Police responsible for paying doctors’ fees, although under an agreement reached some years ago between the Police and the British Medical Association, doctors often do not get paid anything for supplying the Police with reports in these circumstances.

If the GP were free to negotiate a fee with his patient, i.e. the applicant, the GP might then be far more inclined to provide a more detailed report to the Police. Requiring the applicant to pay GP fees should also ensure there is greater consultation between the GP and the applicant before information is provided, and therefore that the Police receive a complete and up to date assessment of the applicant’s health.

Work by the Home Office on updating the Firearms Guidance to Police is ongoing and it is expected that the new edition will be published during 2013.

If the Police have refused to renew or grant you a firearm or shotgun certificate on medical grounds, contact Laura Saunsbury for advice about prospects of appeal.

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Police Investigations – by Miles Herman

In respect of a number of investigations the firm has undertaken within the last year it has become apparent that the cuts in the Criminal Justice System are starting to bite deep with regards to both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

This is particularly so in often lengthy and complex investigations which require forensic analysis of all available evidence and significant time spent in chasing up lines of enquiry and obtaining of evidence which may be relevant to the investigation.

With less police on hand to deal with these issues suspects are finding that they are being re-bailed on a regular basis and investigations are taking, to my experience at least, double the amount of time than they were say two or three years ago.

The fact investigations are taking longer does not mean that a defence lawyer should sit idly back and allow the police more time than they should ordinarily need to do their job. I have recently represented two professionals and have been proactive in making representations to the police and/or prosecuting authorities as to not only the state of the evidence but also as to their obligations in ensuring that justice should be dealt with both expeditiously and diligently.

Such an approach early on in an investigation can reap significant benefits from a suspect under investigation. It is important to place the police under pressure right from the start. This can be done by seeking the return of property, liaising with police over any pre-charge bail conditions that may have been imposed and by questioning the nature of the investigation and the evidence that has been obtained. None of the above interferes with the way the case is being conducted by police, but it makes it clear that on behalf of a suspect everything that reasonably can be done is being done before a decision is made whether to charge a suspect or not.

In certain cases the right approach may be to make representations as to alternatives to prosecution in addition to comment on the length of time an investigation is taking.

Therefore, if you are the subject of a police investigation and seek proactive advice by expert defence solicitors dealing with police station matters on a daily basis then please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Increase in Global Fraud – by Siobhain Egan

Kroll has just issued a report on global fraud stating that two thirds of corporate fraud is committed by insiders, i.e. employees and management, and sixty per cent of companies said that they have been affected by fraud.

Interestingly, it seems that corporate behaviour has changed somewhat as a result of the US FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and the UK Bribery Act; still, only approximately fifty per cent state they have trained managers and conduct thorough risk assessments. What of the other fifty per cent?

It is imperative that AML and anti-bribery/corruption compliance is taken seriously, and for that, senior managers need to install the best systems available. These systems need to be tailored to the individual needs of the company and to be constantly updated.

We work with leading specialist accountants and, because of our long and successful practice dealing with the defence of serious fraud and crime, we can advise on AML and anti-bribery/corruption.

Contact Jeffrey Lewis or Siobhain Egan.

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