Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED December 5, 2003

Fingers inside a jacket, which gave the impression the defendant was holding a firearm, could constitute an offence under s.17(2) Firearms Act 1968.Appeal, with leave of the single judge, against conviction, following a plea of guilty, for possession of an imitation firearm imposed on 5 December 2002 at Preston Crown Court. The defendant ('D') had pleaded guilty to robbery and doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice on an earlier date and was sentenced to a total of five-and-a-half years' imprisonment. D believed he was owed money by the victim ('V') and in the early hours of the morning went to V's home. D went to the bedroom where V was asleep with his wife. He put his hand in his jacket, with his fingers pointed out, giving the impression that he was holding a gun. He demanded money and jewellery and threatened to shoot V. Prior to trial, D sought a ruling as to whether fingers inside a jacket could constitute an offence under s.17(2) Firearms Act 1968. The judge ruled it could and, in light of the ruling, D pleaded guilty on the written basis that his fingers gave the appearance he had a gun but he did not have any other object in his jacket. D appealed conviction on the ground that the judge erred in his ruling that fingers came within the definition of a "thing" for the purpose of an offence under s.17(2) of the Act. D, relying on, inter alia, R v Sloan (1974) 19 Canadian Criminal Cases 190, contended that a person could not be in possession of his own fingers.HELD: (1) The case of R v Sloan (supra) was considered in R v Morris and King (1984) 79 Cr App R 104 and the objective test, in R v Sloan, was clearly rejected. A purposive approach to the Act had to be adopted. The object of s.17(2) of the Act was designed to protect victims from what they reasonably believed to be a firearm or imitation firearm. (2) The wording of the statute, in light of R v Morris and King (supra) showed that the judge's ruling was correct. If the matter had gone to trial the jury would have had to consider whether, at the material time, D had in his possession an imitation firearm, i.e. anything that had the appearance of being a firearm. It did not matter whether that was plastic, wood or stiffened material, if it had the appearance of a firearm then they could convict on that basis.Appeal dismissed.