The Sentencing Council has published new sentencing guidelines which will apply to all adults found guilty of importing prohibited or restricted firearms.

Firearms Sentencing

If you have been accused of firearms offences and you need a solicitor, please contact us at Ashmans. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also offer free police station representation.

How sentences are decided

When someone is found guilty of a criminal offence in England or Wales, the Magistrates or Judge must decide a suitable punishment. When making this decision, they must refer to the relevant sentencing guidelines published by the Sentencing Council.

For each offence, the Sentencing Council outlines different factors which should be taken into account. Together, these allow the sentencer to determine an appropriate sentence.

New sentencing guidelines for the importation of firearms

The Sentencing Council reviews these guidelines regularly. If changes are needed then the guidelines are updated. This is exactly what has happened with the guidelines relating to the importation of prohibited and restricted firearms. The Council decided that the guidelines should be changed following an increase in the number of cases.

How will these sentences be decided?

As of January 2022, if you are convicted under section 50 and/or 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the sentencer will look at:

  • The type of weapon involved
  • Your culpability
  • The level of harm
  • Mitigating and aggravating factors

The type of weapon involved

Weapons are put into one of three categories:

Type 1 – a weapon that is designed or adapted to be capable of killing two or more people at the same time or in rapid succession.

Type 2 – weapons falling between types 1 and 2, or large amounts of ammunition.

Type 3 – a weapon that is not designed to be lethal or a very small quantity of ammunition.

Type 1 weapons attract harsher sentences than type 3 weapons. Lethal weapons will always involve a custodial sentence.


Culpability means the extent to which you are to blame. Like weapons, culpability is split into three levels:

High culpability – meaning you played a leading role in the offence. There may have been significant planning including steps to evade detection, abuse of position of trust or responsibility. There may have been the expectation of substantial financial or other advantage. You may also have involved others through coercion, intimidation or exploitation.

Medium culpability – meaning you played significant role in the offence. There may have been a degree of planning, along with the expectation of significant financial or other advantage.

Low culpability – meaning you played a lesser role. You may have become involved through coercion, intimidation or exploitation. You may have had little or no involvement in the planning. You may also have had a limited expectation, if any, of financial or other advantage.

The greater your culpability, the greater the sentence will be. Those who had a minor role will not be punished as severely as those who played a leading role.


In this context harm relates to the scale and nature of the importation, rather than any actual physical harm that was caused to another person. Again, harm is split into three levels:

Category 1 – defined as a large-scale commercial enterprise that may include a large number of firearms/ammunition, an operation over a significant period or close connection to other serious criminal activity.

Category 2 – defined as a medium scale enterprise and/or some degree of sophistication, including groups that fall in between categories 1 and 3.

Category 3 – defined as a smaller-scale and unsophisticated enterprise; this may include a limited number of firearms/ammunition or a minimal or no connection to other serious criminal activity.

Offences involving a category 1 level of harm attract harsher sentences than those involving a category 2 or 3 level of harm.

Aggravating and mitigating factors

There is always a sentencing range. For example, the guidelines might say a sentence for a particular offence should range from six to eight years. Aggravating factors will persuade the Judge to hand out a sentence at the higher end of this range. Mitigating factors are the opposite and may persuade the sentencer to show leniency.

Aggravating factors include:

  • Previous convictions (depending on the relevance and the age of the convictions)
  • Offence committed while on bail
  • Putting others at risk
  • Using a business as a cover
  • Attempting to dispose of the firearm or other evidence

Mitigating factors include:

  • A lack of convictions
  • The firearm being incomplete or incapable of being discharged
  • Co-operation with the investigation
  • Early admission
  • A lack of maturity

Firearms solicitors – England and Wales

If you have been accused of a firearms offence, you need to instruct an experienced firearms solicitor. The solicitors here at Ashmans can help you get a good result.

Call us on 0333 009 6275. You can also email us on or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form and we will contact you.

We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also offer free police station representation.

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