It is inevitable that organisers of any coutryside pursuit, be that hunts, point to point or shoots, must nowadays face the thorny issue of public liability, and who will be responsible should there be damage to person or property.
Establishing who is the occupier and therefore the person to be held liable it is not as simplistic as might first be thought. For the purposes of liability under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, someone who organises a country pursuit on land owned by others may themselves be held to be the occupier. Examples of this may well be the organisers of point to point activities on another’s land, the organisers of hunts, the organisers of trips of fly fishermen and women, or indeed those organising shoots, even if they themselves have ended up with that responsibility by default being the most active within a syndicate.
Under the legislation occupiers must take reasonable care to ensure the reasonable safety of lawful visitors to their land or property . The 1984 amendment to the Occupiers Liability Act deals with trespassers but for the purpose of this article that particular amendment will not be considered.
The Countryside Alliance has addressed some of these issues in their Code of Good Shooting Practice 2008. This guide aims to provide a structure to enable those involved in shoots to enjoy safe shooting. The Code however has to sit alongside the Health and Safety Work Act 1974 and various other regulations e.e.g some of those involved in shooting-related activities may be classed as “employees”.
The risks of liability apply equally to land owners and those who organise the shoots. Whilst the duty of care may not be as burdensome if a landowner has not actively promoted or organised a shoot, the fact remains that a landowner may well be held to be the occupier of the land should an incident occur, and consequently may be pursued when alleged breaches may have caused injury or loss.
Broadly speaking therefore those organising shoots should ensure that:-
- Those attending a shoot on a particular day are competent in this past-time and that if they are inexperienced that they are accompanied and supervised by a suitably experienced person;
- All involved in the shooting on the particular day must have paramount in their minds the safety of themselves and of others around them, whether or not directly involved in the shoot.
- Care should be taken when deciding on a location of a shoot, i.e. avoiding areas where it is reasonably foreseeable that others may be, or indeed near to public footpaths and bridleways. In fact, Section 161 of the Highways Act 1980 prohibits the discharge of a firearm within 50 feet of the centre of a highway with particular rights, unless lawful authority or excuse, if as a result somebody using the highway is either injured, interrupted or endangered.
The Code encourages a whole shoot management plan (to incorporate health and safety along with other issues) and also states that those who are organising shoots must ensure that public liability insurance is in place and is maintained appropriately.
There is no substitute for taking advice on this topic but all-in-all, whilst seemingly onerous when considering a past-time which has been part of English culture for centuries, the fact remains that the law in England and Wales dictates that such a potentially dangerous past-time has appropriate safeguards.
The 2008 Code of Good Shooting Practice provides a structure to enable those involved in shoots, for example, the organisers, the attendees, game keepers and other employees who amongst other things enjoy safe shooting. A copy is available from www.countryside-alliance.org.uk.
If any further guidance is required, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Gutteridge, Head of Personal Injury at Burnetts on 01228 552222.