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Will I lose my shotgun certificate because I’ve had a formal police caution?

David Frost advises two worried readers.

Police bluelamp

So what’s the situation if you want to apply or renew your shotgun licence with a caution on your record? Should you own up?

What you must know about getting a shotgun licence with a caution

Don’t lie or leave important facts out on your application. It is against the law to make an untrue statement when you apply for or renew a shotgun or firearms certificate. Do not withold details of past or ‘spent’ convictions or you may be prosecuted. You will need to give details of any previous convictions.

Does that include motoring convictions?

Yes whether or not they are still recorded on your driving licence. You will need to include any motoring convictions received abroad too. Informal cautions do not need to be mentioned, but formal written cautions and conditional or absolute discharges do. You can pay theCriminal Records Office for a subject access disclosure, which details all information held about you on the Police National Computer. However, you don’t have to give details of parking tickets or fixed penalty notices.

Not guilty

Q: Two weeks ago I was arrested and given a formal caution for an offence I didn’t commit. I’m now concerned that in three years’ time my shotgun licence renewal application will be turned down and am worried that renewing a shotgun licence with a caution will count against me. 

The officer who handed out the caution said the alleged offence does not attract a police record and there has so far been no publicity. But I am very nervous the police will start to dig into their files come renewal time and use any minor excuse to stop my licence and then up the statistics of non-renewals. I have never been in trouble before, not even a parking ticket. I am very worried and hope you can help.

A: The first thing is that nobody should ever under any circumstances accept a caution without first taking legal advice.

Free legal advice is available to anyone who is arrested, although you may be kept waiting for it as part of a softening-up process.

What is a caution?

A caution is a formal acceptance by you that you have committed an offence. The police often use cautions for minor offences which it would not be cost effective to take to court.

Cautions, which are not technically convictions, are recorded on the police national computer. They are not covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so they never become spent and can be dredged up years later in some circumstances, such as applications for sensitive jobs.

They should be declared on the shotgun certificate application form.

That’s the downside. However there is an upside in your case.  Firstly the offence you committed must have been a minor one otherwise you would have ended up in court. Minor offences, indeed even short jail terms, should not normally be a bar to getting a certificate provided the offence did not include violence.

If the police think you are unfit, by virtue of the offence you have committed, to hold a shotgun certificate, they should revoke your certificate without delay. The fact they haven’t suggests they have no grounds to do so.

What about future refusal?

If the police were to refuse to renew the certificate in three years’ time solely because of this offence you would almost certainly be successful on appeal. If they don’t revoke your certificate in the next couple of weeks I think you can sleep soundly.

Arrested and cautioned for a public order offence

Q: A few years ago when I was home on leave from the Army, I was assaulted by a couple of men outside a club. The police turned up, jumping to conclusions because the others were hurt and I wasn’t. I was arrested and offered a caution for a public order offence. I accepted so I wasn’t late back from leave. I’ve left the Army now and recently applied for a shotgun certificate. I’ve been refused. What can I do?

A: The police must grant you a certificate unless the local chief constable believes you cannot possess a gun without being a danger to public safety or the peace. If he or she thinks you are, they will refuse. Many police forces err on the side of caution.

If you challenge the decision, you must notify the local crown court and chief constable, in writing, that you wish to appeal within 21 days from the date of refusal. You may wish to consult whichever shooting organisation you are a member of, or a lawyer, before filing a notice of appeal. The court will then issue directions either in correspondence or at a preliminary hearing. These are orders made by the court as to who serves their evidence on whom first and by when.

The court will also fix a date for hearing the appeal. It might be months in advance.  Inevitably that means long delays before cases are heard. Only full-time judges can hear firearms appeals and must sit with two justices of the peace. The police present their case first, then the person who is appealing. He or she can call evidence in support of the appeal and also character evidence, so the court knows more about the appellant. Then they will decide the case.

If you win, the chief constable is ordered to issue your certificate. A word about costs, unless the police have acted in bad faith you don’t get your costs if you win. If you lose you have to pay the costs of the other side. This can be expensive.

This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.