BAILII, on 28th June 2013, published judgment in the case of R v Lawrence  EWCA Crim 1054. In this case the appellant had pleaded guilty on a false prospectus provided by the Crown to a firearm offence she had not committed. In many firearm offences the law is quite precise so correct classification of the weapon is critical. Clearly the appellant in this case was let down by inaccurate information produced in the Crown’s evidence within the SFR process and an inadequate challenge by her defence team.
The CoA commented “This case serves to highlight that in relation to ‘streamlined’ procedures directed at encouraging early guilty pleas it is important that all involved are alert to check that the necessary elements of what will sometimes be relatively specific offences are in fact provable.”
It may surprise you to learn that the circumstance of this case is a far from unusual occurrence within firearms’ classification. Under Streamlined Forensic Reporting, most seized weapons are not submitted for expert examination; instead charges tend to be framed on the identification reports produced by police force armourers. These officers may be experts in maintaining police weapons but not necessarily in firearms’ law.
During the last year we have been instructed in three similar cases where the police classification was completely wrong, including a Section 5(1)(aba) offence which carried a mandatory 5 year minimum sentence, and several others where the classification was debatable. In firearms’ classification it should not be acceptable always to expect the accused to ‘know’ whether they have committed the specific offence or not, and yet it is easy to get this checked by an expert.
Ann Kiernan BSc MSc, Forensic Scientist, Firearm and Toolmark Examiner