COVID-19 has impacted all our lives in many ways, including our ability to participate in leisure activities. Licensed shooting is one of the activities impacted. Those taking part in shoots often travel long distances, spend nights away from home and gather in groups made up of different households.

Participants at, and organisers of, shoots require to carefully consider their COVID-19 related legal obligations, taking legal advice in advance where appropriate. Our colleague, Kate Donnachie, has previously discussed key considerations for running shoots. Since then of course, new tighter national restrictions have been imposed in the majority of Scotland, prohibiting organised sports in most circumstances. In particular, the limit on numbers that can gather outside and prohibition on travelling means that participation in a shoot is likely to be inconsistent with current rules.

Revocation of certificates

Shot gun certificate holders are under a legal duty to comply with the conditions of their certificate and to demonstrate that they can be permitted to possess shot guns without endangering the public. Under the Firearms Act 1968, a shot gun certificate may be revoked if the UK police authorities consider that the certificate holder "cannot be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to the public safety or to the peace."

Previous case law suggests that, in determining whether to revoke a certificate, the UK specialist firearms teams have a wide discretion. Revocation decisions have been taken following unlawful conduct unrelated to the use of a shot gun including (1) driving whilst under the influence of alcohol (2) violent behaviour and (3) disqualification from driving for speeding offences.

Scope for appeal

Revocation decisions can be, and often are, appealed. We know from experience that the specialist firearms authorities often respond to appeals arguing that a failure to comply with legal obligations indicates a disregard towards compliance with the law which, in turn, is incompatible with holding a shot gun certificate. The courts have on occasion concluded that unlawful behaviour unrelated to the actual use of a shot gun is a relevant factor when deciding whether an individual can be permitted to possess a shot gun.

As a result, there is a real risk that a certificate may be revoked if an individual breached the COVID-19 regulations through their participation in a shoot. Given the nature and profile of the ongoing restrictions, the authorities are likely to regard any breach of the regulations as demonstrating a disregard towards compliance with the law and are likely to take robust enforcement action.

As mentioned above, a revocation decision can be challenged by way of appeal. There are time limits for raising an appeal so it's important to take legal advice quickly. The overall message is to avoid the risk of revocation by ensuring compliance with COVID-19 regulations and their ongoing application.


Ramsay Hall

Legal Director