24 November 2021
New sentencing guideline for unlawful importation of firearms published
A new guideline for sentencing offenders convicted of importing prohibited or restricted firearms in England and Wales was published by the Sentencing Council today following consultation. The new guideline, which applies to adult offenders, will come into effect on 1 January 2022.
The guideline was developed following requests from the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service, and feedback from judges, asking the Council to develop a specific guideline for unlawful importation of firearms offences.
These offences can be serious and complex but are not frequently prosecuted. The new guideline will enable courts to take a consistent approach to sentencing offences they do not routinely see.
The sentences imposed under the guideline depend on a number of factors, including the type of firearm imported, the role of the offender and the scale and nature of the importation. The most serious cases involving lethal weapons will be sentenced in the Crown Court. Less serious cases, typically involving importation of a stun gun with no criminal intent, may be sentenced in magistrates’ courts.
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.
“The new guideline will ensure courts take a consistent approach to sentencing often complex firearms importation offences and will make the sentencing process more transparent and easier to understand for victims, witnesses, defendants and the public.”
The guideline covers importation of firearms and ammunition under two offences: improper importation of goods and fraudulent evasion of prohibition/ restriction, and will be added to a suite of eight existing guidelines for other firearms offences that came into force on 1 January 2021.
Notes to editors
- The 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.
- The Council had made the original decision not to proceed with a guideline for importation offences based on sentencing data from 2017. More recent data show that volumes for importation offences under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 have increased. While the volumes are still low (around 40 offenders sentenced in 2020), there was clearly an identified need for a guideline.
- 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:
- Possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited weapon or ammunition – sections 5(1), 5(1A);
- Possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition/shotgun without a certificate – sections 1(1), 2(1);
- Possession of a firearm or ammunition by person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition – sections 21(4), 21(5);
- Carrying a firearm in a public place – section 19;
- Possession of firearm with intent to endanger life – section 16;
- Possession of firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence – section 16A;
- Use of firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest/possession of firearm or imitation firearm while committing a Schedule 1 offence/carrying firearm or imitation firearm with criminal intent – sections 17(1), 17(2), 18; and
- Manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition – section 5(2A).
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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 handguns or stun guns.
- 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.
- All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing.
- Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
- Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The current OGIL came into force 31 December 2020 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/948219/Open_General_Import_Licence_Final_December_2020.pdf.