R v Nugent: Defining Firearms, Mandatory Minimum Sentences, and Retrospective Application

Citation: [2023] EWCA Crim 1649
Judgment on


The case of R v Raymond Frederick Nugent deals with various offences related to the Firearms Act 1968 and highlights the intricacies of determining what constitutes a firearm, the retrospective application of the law regarding manufacturing firearms, and the considerations for sentencing, especially in relation to mandatory minimum sentences and exceptional circumstances.

Key Facts

Raymond Frederick Nugent, the appellant, was convicted of 45 offences under the Firearms Act 1968 and sentenced to a total of 7½ years’ imprisonment after accounting for mitigation. The offences included conversion of firearms, possession of prohibited weapons, possessing ammunition without a certificate, and manufacturing firearms. The appellant had an interest in guns, and this interest escalated into the restoration and alteration of firearms, which he argued was for ornamental purposes. The crown’s case focused on the lethality of these firearms as prohibited weapons.

Definition of “Firearm” and the 1982 Defence

The case raises the legal definition of “firearm” and an “imitation firearm” as defined in section 57 of the Firearms Act 1968. Mr. Justice Hilliard, in his judgment, referred to R v Bewley [2012] EWCA Crim 1457 and R v Heddell [2016] EWCA Crim 443 to clarify that an imitation firearm would not constitute a firearm within the meaning of section 57 if it could not be converted into a working weapon without special skill or specialist tools. Conversely, if only minor repairs were needed, the gun would be considered a firearm. This distinction was crucial in determining that section 1(5) of the Firearms Act 1982, which provides a defence for possessing an imitation firearm believed not to be readily convertible, was inapplicable because the appellant was charged with possession of firearms, not imitations.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Exceptional Circumstances

Another legal principle at play concerns the mandatory minimum sentences for possessing a prohibited weapon, which is 5 years unless exceptional circumstances justify a different approach (as outlined in R v Nancarrow [2019] 2 Cr App R(S) 4). The court must evaluate various factors, including the nature of the weapon, the intent behind its possession, the offender’s record, and any significant adverse impacts on the offender’s health from the sentence.

Retrospective Application of Law on Manufacturing Firearms

The appellant’s manufacturing counts were also under scrutiny to ascertain whether he made the firearms after the relevant date when manufacturing became an offence (14 July 2014). The case highlighted the retrospective application of the law and supported the judge’s decision that a properly directed jury could take the view that the guns were made after late 2014.


The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, finding no arguable grounds of appeal against it, and accordingly refused the renewed application. However, the court did recognize several mitigating factors in sentencing, ultimately concluding that the sentences in excess of 5 years were manifestly excessive, reducing them accordingly. This resulted in an overall sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment for the appellant.


In R v Nugent, the Court of Appeal provided a judicial approach to intricate issues like defining firearms, considering exceptional circumstances in sentencing, and respecting the retrospective application of laws in manufacturing firearms. The outcomes exemplify the balancing act involved in upholding the statutory framework of the Firearms Act while taking into account the unique aspects of an offender’s circumstances, thereby tailoring justice to the specifics of the case.