Specialists in Serious Fraud and Complex Criminal Defence
DO THE NEW SENTENCING GUIDELINES FOR FIREARMS OFFENCES SPELL AN END TO UNCONSCIOUS BIAS? FROM 5 YEARS TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT
- AuthorSeema Parikh
By Seema Parikh, Partner at MPR solicitors – Complex and Serious Crime Team and Head of Private Client
The New Year ushered in silently the arrival of 8 new guidelines for sentencing offenders convicted of firearms offences from the unlawful possession of weapons to manufacturing illegal guns. These new guidelines came into force on 1st January 2021. Ordinarily had it not been for the pandemic and the COVID-19 catching headlines, we could have expected a fanfare of media attention for this single piece of long-awaited legal direction. Instead, it barely got a mention.
The new sentencing guidelines are a welcomed addition for the judiciary to ensure a consistent and transparent approach to dealing with these types of offences. Prior to 1st January 2021, there were no sentencing guidelines for firearms offences in the crown court and only one for use in the Magistrates Court for carrying a firearm in a public place. Worse still, according to research conducted by the Sentencing Council there are disparities in sentence outcomes for some firearms offences based on ethnicity; in other words, BAME offenders in a particular grouping were more likely to be sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment compared to their white peers. The ugly unconscious bias that society is now raging against since the Black Lives Matter Movement gathered impetus across the UK revealing the inequality that BAME groups face within the Criminal Justice System. The Sentencing Council has taken steps within the new guidelines to address these issues including drawing sentencers’ attention to evidence of sentencing disparities in specific offences as an integral part of the sentencing process. The new guidelines refer the Sentencing Court to sections 123-129 of Chapter 8 of the Equal Treatment Bench Book. A novel approach but only time will tell if these new guidelines are having their desired effect.
The 8 new guidelines cover the offences below within the Firearms Act 1968:
- Possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited weapon or ammunition
- Possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition/shotgun without a certificate
- Possession of a firearm or ammunition by person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.
- Carrying a firearm in a public place.
- Possession of firearm with intent to endanger life.
- Possession of firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.
- 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.
- Manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition.
Firearms legislation is complex with 35 statutes as well as numerous pieces of secondary legislation.
The courts used to rely on previous decisions of the Court of Appeal to give guidance on sentencing firearms cases and the 4 major authorities used prior to 1st January 2021 were from the following cases one of which MPR Solicitors llp were involved in:
Start point: R v Avis  2 Cr. App.R. (S) 178
- What sort of weapon is involved?
- What (if any) use has been made of the firearm?
- With what intention (if any) did the defendant possess or use the firearm?
- What is the defendant’s record?
R v Wilkinson  EWCA Crim 1925 - (MPR solicitors llp case) – possession with intent to endanger life.
AG ref (nos 128-1414 and 8-10 of 2015) – transfer of prohibited weapons and ammunition
R v Asif  EWCA Crim 2297 – Sentencing with other offences: consecutive v concurrent.
At MPR solicitors, we have the experience and expertise to deal with defending firearms offences. We know the difference between a choke and a primer or a muzzle and a collar-device. This area of law can be very technical and can make a difference in knowing when to challenge the Prosecution’s classification of a firearm which in turn can lead to huge reduction in sentences or no prosecutions at all.
At MPR solicitors we are also fundamentally committed to defending and promoting rights of BAME defendants young and old to ensure they are not being discriminated against and to promote equality within the Criminal Justice System. The Lammy Review on Racial Bias throughout the Justice System was an awakening call to the Establishment and when the then PM David Cameron commissioned David Lammy to undertake the review into the treatment of and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System, the author thought he was being set up to fail. But the result of his magnus opus contained 35 recommendations some considered far too challenging or radical such as Recommendation 34: sealing criminal records similar to the US system or Recommendation 10: the deferred prosecution model where interventions before pleas are entered rather than after.
If you think MPR solicitors may be able to assist you or a family member or friend, please contact us for an initial confidential consultation by calling us on 020 3824 8080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
** The author of this short blog had direct involvement in the case of R v G Wilkinson which later became a leading authority used by Crown Court judges on sentencing in cases of possession with intent to endanger life and Abdullah Al-Yunusi was counsel for the appellant in this leading sentencing case and is also the Senior Partner at MPR solicitors**