Is it illegal to possess a flare?

21 December 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

During an investigation, we have recently seized a set of flares from inside a dwelling. The set of flares in particular require a launcher to use, however no launcher was found.

There is some confusion as to whether it is illegal under the Firearms Act to have possession of such an item and if the Act covers the flare, could you please assist?

Answer:

We understand you are asking whether possession of the flare itself, without the flare gun or launcher is an offence under the Firearms Act.

The flare itself could potentially be seen as ammunition, ammunition is defined under section 57 in the Firearms Act 1988.

‘57(2) In this Act, the expression ammunition means ammunition for any firearm and includes grenades, bombs and other like missiles, whether capable of use with a firearm or not, and also includes prohibited ammunition.

Section 5(1)(c) of the Act specifies ammunition which is prohibited as:

‘any cartridge with a bullet designed to explode on or immediately before impact, any ammunition containing or designed or adapted to contain any such noxious thing as is mentioned in paragraph (b) above and, if capable of being used with a firearm of any description, any grenade, bomb (or other like missile), or rocket or shell designed to explode as aforesaid. Notes see further descriptions and examples of each of the weapons listed above).’

An interesting case on the matter is that of R v Singh 1989.  This case explored whether a signalling kit consisting of a flare and a hand held discharger was a firearm that the court held was a mixture of fact and law. Where the judge determines that the discharger is capable of amounting to a firearm, he is entitled to leave the jury the question whether it so does amount. The jury had properly been left to decide which expert evidence they accepted, on which they found the launcher was a firearm and the flare was therefore ammunition. He was charged with possession of a firearm and of ammunition without a certificate, contrary to section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968.

It is our opinion that a flare could therefore be captured by the definition, however we are unable to give a definitive answer as to whether it is considered ammunition, as it will be a matter of interpretation by the courts. We would recommend early pre-charge advice with the CPS is sought in regards to such offence.

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