News type:
Press releases

News topic:
Firearms offences

Published on:

17 June 2021

A new draft sentencing guideline for sentencing offenders convicted in England and Wales of importing prohibited or restricted firearms was published for consultation by the Sentencing Council today.

The proposed guideline covers importation of firearms and ammunition under two Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 offences – improper importation of goods and fraudulent evasion of prohibition/restriction.

The new guideline, which applies to adult offenders, proposes sentences of up to 28 years’ custody for the most serious cases, for example the large-scale importation of rapid-firing weapons for use in crime, and up to seven years for offences involving firearms that are less dangerous.

The proposed sentences depend on a number of factors including the type of gun imported, the role of the offender and the scale and nature of the importation. The less serious cases, typically involving importation of a stun gun with no criminal intent, may be sentenced in magistrates’ courts.

Currently, there are no specific sentencing guidelines for these offences, and the consultation is seeking the views of judges, magistrates and others interested in this area of sentencing. The consultation runs from 17 June 2021 to 8 September 2021.

The Council recently consulted on and published a number of sentencing guidelines for firearms offences, and the proposed guideline is a result of requests from the National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Office to develop a specific guideline for importation of firearms offences.

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice Maura McGowan said:

“Firearms offences are treated seriously; the more firearms there are in circulation, the greater the risk of death or serious injury. We recently consulted on and published sentencing guidelines for a range of firearms offences, and one of the themes that came out of that consultation was that a sentencing guideline for firearms importation offences would also be useful.

“The draft firearms importation guideline proposes a range of sentences to reflect the varied nature of offending and to ensure a consistent approach to sentencing. We welcome views on the proposals.”

The new guideline, when it comes into effect, will ensure the courts take a consistent approach to sentencing and that proportionate sentences are imposed for the unlawful importation of firearms.

Notes to editors

  1. The draft guideline covers two offences under the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA)1979: sections 50 (improper importation of goods) and 170 (fraudulent evasion of prohibition / restriction). The guideline refers to types of weapons listed under sections 1, 5(1) and 5(1A) of the Firearms Act 1968.
  2. There are currently eight sentencing guidelines for firearms offences, which came into force on 1 January 2021. The guidelines cover the following offences under the Firearms Act 1968:
  1. Offences prosecuted under CEMA are not subject to the minimum term provisions which relate to certain Firearms Act offences but firearms and ammunition that would be subject to the minimum five year term if prosecuted as possession, have a statutory maximum sentence of life as opposed to seven years for all other firearms or ammunition.
  2. CEMA provides powers and offences for enforcing prohibitions and restrictions established by other legislation or provisions. The Open General Import Licence (OGIL) is issued by the Department for International Trade (DIT) and renewed periodically by the Secretary of State as required[1].  Under the OGIL most commodities are permitted to be imported to the UK without restriction except for an annex of exceptions contained within the licence. These exceptions are either ‘prohibited’ and may not be imported or ‘controlled’ and may be imported into the UK but only under the authority of a specific licence issued by DIT.  
  3. Some categories of firearms and ammunition are ‘prohibited’ and others are ‘controlled’. There are also other restrictions that apply to imports from particular countries to which trade sanctions apply. There is therefore no definitive list of firearms and ammunition to which the offences apply but most cases sentenced involve weapons or ammunition of a kind mentioned in section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and typically involve hand guns or stun guns.
  4. In the absence of sentencing guidelines courts rely on previous decisions of the Court of Appeal to give guidance on sentencing firearms cases and the general guideline.
  5. Firearms legislation is complex with 35 statutes governing the use of firearms as well as numerous pieces of secondary legislation.
  6. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless in a particular case a judge or magistrate is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline but must give reasons for doing so.
  7. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
  8. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.

For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 or by email at


[1]           The current OGIL came into force 31 December 2020