Written evidence submitted by the Law Society of Scotland (FLR0012)

 

Introduction

The Law Society of Scotland is the professional body for over 13,000 Scottish solicitors.

We are a regulator that sets and enforces standards for the solicitor profession which helps people in need and supports business in Scotland, the UK and overseas. We support solicitors and drive change to ensure Scotland has a strong, successful and diverse legal profession. We represent our members and wider society when speaking out on human rights and the rule of law. We also seek to influence changes to legislation and the operation of our justice system as part of our work towards a fairer and more just society.

Our Licensing Law sub-committee welcomes the opportunity to consider and respond to the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry: Firearms Licensing Regulations in Scotland. The sub-committee has the following comments to put forward for consideration.

 

Terms of Reference: Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland

How adequate are firearms licensing regulations in the UK, and in Scotland particular?

We are of the view that firearms regulations in Scotland are adequate. We would note in respect of Firearms Appeals that our members report that this is a system of “appeal” by rehearing rather than review. Our members note that in Scotland, a Sheriff effectively considers the application of new, and the appeal proceeds as a proof rather than a debate on the merits or deficiencies of the initial police decision. This is atypical to licensing appeals which are usually reviews of the decision maker’s decision.

 

In particular, we note that Firearms Appeals are more expensive relative to other licensing appeals, due to the level of  and the extent of pleadings which are required, including the need to call witnesses to attend for an evidential hearing.

 

To what extent are firearms licensing regulations adequate and relevant to Scotland’s particular circumstances, including its agricultural communities and its strong connections with countryside sports?

In our view, it is imperative that agricultural communities including farmers, game keepers etc and countryside sports enthusiasts are enabled to obtain gun licences.  The former, to enable them to carry out their work and the latter to ensure the viability of sporting estates and also to maintain rural employment. We are of the view that there are adequate safeguards for transport and keeping of guns in these circumstances.  

However, we do note that when a concern is identified, Police Scotland will confiscate firearms for the duration of their investigation. We note from experience that this can often be for lengthy periods of time and invariably has a significant impact on those who require firearms for their employment for example gamekeepers. We consider that it may be useful to implement statutory timescales for the holding of such firearms by the police, with the opportunity of an extension if necessary and on cause shown, at the discretion of the police.

 

Should the process for obtaining a licence for firearms be changed (for example, to place greater emphasis on applicants’ mental health)?

In our view there is already a strong emphasis on mental health in the application process. We note that this aspect is normally dealt with by the medical profession via General Practitioners etc.  

 

October 2022