Shooting Times are campaigning for better licensing. Clarifying the term "occupier" is crucial for shooting, says CA's Jack Knott.
Have you ever taken a family member or friend, who no shotgun licence, on a day’s shooting on land that you do not own? If so, and you allow them to have a go, you could be breaking the law.
This illogicality on the borrowing of shotguns is why the Countryside Alliance (CA), with the British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC), is asking the Government to update the 1968 Firearms Act. After the recommendations made by then Law Commission last year, now is the perfect time to reduce the legal complexity of the Act and the administrative burden on the police.
As the law stands, Section 11(5) of the 1968 Act allows “an individual, without holding a shotgun certificate, to borrow a shotgun from the occupier of private premises and use it on those premises in the occupier’s presence”.
Barriers for Young Guns
The legislation clearly disadvantages those of any age without shotgun certificates, as even if you have had multiple lessons at certified shooting schools you are not allowed to borrow a gun from anyone but the occupier of private land.
Taking your son or daughter out shooting or participating in a Young Shots day, where they can be taught and experience handling and using a shotgun, is one of the best ways to introduce the younger generation safely to the sport. But unless you are borrowing a shotgun from the “occupier” of the land and the occupier is “present”, then this cannot legally be done. If there is no occupier present the only way for a young person to participate is to obtain a shotgun certificate.
The question remains throughout this legislation of who exactly is the “occupier”? The term is not defined in the Firearms Act and has never been tested in the courts. It is not known whether the occupier is the legal owner(s) of the land, those who own the sporting rights — which can often be different people — or simply anyone with the “right” to shoot over the land, such as someone who has paid for a day’s shooting.
The 1968 Act was framed in the days when shooting game was associated with the ownership and occupancy of land. Nowadays, people are able to travel far and wide to enjoy new shooting experiences; those shooting are not just the owners of the land but increasingly include smaller syndicates leasing land and/or sporting rights. As shooting is increasingly taking place on land whose owner is not present, more questions are being asked about the definition of “occupier”.
Mixed interpretation of “occupier”
The CA tried to gain an understanding of how Police Forces in England and Wales understood “occupier”. Our Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed some surprising answers, which have led us to the conclusion that it is essential for the legislation to be updated immediately.
Though the majority of Forces chose the Home Office Guidance regarding the definition — meaning the occupier “includes any person having any right of hunting, shooting, fishing or taking game fish”, seven interpreted it as “a person who owns the land or has the authority to devolve the sporting rights on the land”.
The former definition would allow any number of occupiers who can claim a right to the land — for example written consent — while the latter would only allow those who either owned the land or held the sporting rights to lend a shotgun. There is further confusion from the likes of Lancashire Police, which states that only the owner, and therefore not the occupier of shooting rights, can lend a shotgun, and Durham Police, which allows any authorised person to lend a shotgun.
It is for these reasons that the CA and the BSSC are strongly advising the Government to amend the Firearms Act. We believe the replacement of “occupier” with the phrase “owner, occupier, or person authorised by them” within the Act would provide clarity. It will make it clear who can borrow and use a shotgun and who cannot. It will also democratise the Act by breaking the link with landownership and occupancy. Finally, it would eliminate the need for police to grant a substantial number of certificates to young people who are learning to shoot.
This is a very small change to make in the grand scheme of the Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament. However, it will make a significant difference to the shooting community. This amendment has already had agreement in 2009 from the then Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) firearms licensing lead, Andy Marsh. The CA sees no reason why the Government should not agree to this change to the 1968 Act, given that it was agreed at least as far back as 2009 by police, Home Office and shooters.