Are you breaking the law?

Q: A friend was walking his dog on a prescribed footpath at night and came across two men lamping for foxes. An argument ensued as to the right to be there. Please can you clarify how close 
you can be to a public area, such 
as a footpath, to shoot?

A: Without knowing all the facts, 
I cannot offer an opinion as to the potential rights or wrongs of this. It may be that the lampers had the right to shoot on land on one or both sides of the footpath. In that case, they had every right to be there if they were simply crossing from one area to another. They might have been using the footpath to get to where they had permission to be.

The purpose of a footpath is to allow pedestrians to pass and repass. That 
is established by the case of Harrison 
v Duke of Rutland, heard in the Queen’s Bench Division in 1893. Though that case is more than 125 years old, it is still good law.

This is what happened. Harrison was standing on a footpath running through a grouse moor, raising and lowering an umbrella to disrupt a grouse shoot (nothing new there, then). The duke’s servants restrained him and the matter went to court. The court found his umbrella waving constituted trespass because he was not using the path to pass and repass but as a platform for his protest. The then Master of the Rolls, Lord Esher, put it thus: “If a person 
on a highway does not transgress 
such reasonable and usual mode 
of using it, I do not think that he will 
be a trespasser.”

Someone who trespasses with 
a firearm commits the criminal offence of armed trespass, which is very serious, carrying a large fine, time in jail or both if the judge does not like the cut of your jib. Make sure that you stay off the footpath while actually shooting. Stay on land you have permission to be on and you are bombproof.

There is no barrier to walking along 
a public footpath with your unloaded gun in a slip to get to your shoot. You have a reasonable excuse to have a loaded firearm in a public place. Always have a care for other countryside users and do nothing to alarm, endanger 
or antagonise them.

If you do, there will inevitably 
be a visit from the police with all the unhappiness that involves.