Police Scotland is the licensing authority for shot gun and firearms certificates in Scotland. Police Scotland's specialist Firearm and Explosives Licensing team are supported by Firearm Enquiry Officers who have the power to seize guns and ammunition held by a certificate holder. Further, the chief constable may revoke their firearms certificate.

Seizure

As an interim measure, in the event of a concern, the Police Firearms officers may seize a certificate holder's guns.

There has been a marked increase in seizure decisions in circumstances where Police Scotland suspect that certificate holders may have engaged in conduct that would put into question their suitability to hold and use guns.

Generally speaking, there are three categories under which Police Scotland officers may seize guns held by a certificate holder: (1) where there is a clear statutory basis to do so; (2) where the conduct of the certificate holder being investigated is clearly relevant for the purposes of determining whether they are suitable to hold guns; and (3) where the conduct of the certificate holder is considered by the Police Scotland to impact their ability to hold and use guns.

Statutory basis

Under section 46 of the Firearms Act 1968 Police Scotland officers have the power to seize and detain anything found on the premises which they suspect of being connected with an offence such as failing to comply with the conditions of the certificate.

In addition, under section 48 of the 1968 Act an officer may demand that someone produces their certificate and they may seize the guns and ammunition if the certificate is not produced.

Conduct that is relevant to the suitability to hold guns

Until recently, the conduct for which officers would seek to seize guns would be that which could be considered to have a direct impact on the ability to hold a certificate. This could be conduct where there is an element of violence, alcohol related offence or conduct relating to the unsafe use or storage of guns and ammunition.

Conduct that could be considered an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, such as causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal, could also fall within this category and could be the basis for seizure of guns.

Conduct which may be considered to have an impact on the ability to hold a certificate

This is an emerging category where officers are seizing guns following suspected conduct that may not seem on the face of it to directly relate to the ability to hold a certificate. Examples include guns being seized as a result of speeding offences, in relation to social media posts of the certificate holder or as a result of disputes involving neighbouring organisations.

Impact of seizure

When guns and ammunition are seized, the certificate holder cannot access the guns or ammunition and will have no control as to whether they are being held in a suitable environment to maintain their condition. The period of seizure can be significant. Following seizure and the completion of the investigation into the alleged conduct, the guns will either be returned to the certificate holder or a permanent decision taken to revoke the certificate.

In the event the Police Firearms officers seek to seize your guns, it is important to understand which legal power they are exercising. This involves seeking immediate legal support.

Engaging legal advice will be particularly important for employers who may have several guns on their estate and whose employees require those guns as part of their day to day work. In these circumstances, the seizure of guns could have a significant impact on the running of the organisation.

Revocation of certificates

Police Scotland may revoke a certification where in their view there is a risk to the public safety or the peace.

A decision to revoke a certificate can be challenged on appeal. There are time limits for raising an appeal so it is important to take legal advice as soon as possible if a certificate is revoked.

Contributors

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director