New sentencing guidelines have been proposed for the offence of importing prohibited or restricted firearms. While the matter is currently under consultation, it could lead to sentences of up to 28 years imprisonment for the most serious offences.

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Calls for new sentencing guidelines

The National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have been urging the Sentencing Council to develop new guidelines for certain firearms offences. The Council originally refused but has since done a U-turn. Now, new draft sentencing guidelines for the offence of importing prohibited or restricted firearms have been published for consultation.

Sentencing guidelines set out what type of punishment should be handed to a person convicted of a criminal offence. They must be followed by judges and magistrates, unless it would not in the interests of justice to do so.

What do the draft guidelines say?

The guidelines propose new sentencing structures for two offences: the improper importation of goods and the fraudulent evasion of prohibition or restriction. Both offences are covered under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. The guidelines relate to adult offenders and propose that:

  • A sentence of up to 28 years’ imprisonment be given for the most serious offences, such as those involving the large-scale importation of rapid-firing weapons for use in crime
  • Up to seven years imprisonment for the importation of less dangerous firearms
  • Three levels of culpability are based on the type of weapon involved, with level 1 (the highest) reserved for a weapon capable of killing two or more people simultaneously or in rapid succession

The guidelines also suggest a two-stage model for assessing culpability, something which is highly unusual. The Council states this is necessary because the type of weapon is a crucial factor in determining the seriousness of the offence. Judges and magistrates will therefore be asked to consider the type of weapon, followed by the other culpability factors. Subsequently, the sentencer can move onto the issue of harm, as well as the aggravating factors and mitigating factors. This will lead the sentencer to arrive at an appropriate penalty.

What happens next?

The proposed guidelines are still at the consultation stage. This means they could be subject to change. For the moment, the Sentencing Council is holding discussions with interested parties and sentencers to gauge whether the proposed guidelines are sufficient. In particular, views are being taken on:

  • The principal factors that make the offences included within the draft guideline more or less serious
  • The additional factors that should influence the sentence
  • The approach taken to structuring the draft guideline
  • The sentences that should be passed for firearms importation offences

The consultation is set to run until 8 September 2021. It remains to be seen whether the draft guidelines will be implemented. You can rest assured that as specialist criminal defence solicitors, we remain up-to-date with any legislative changes. This ensures we are always best-placed to advise you.

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