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Project Titanium — common sense safety or a step too far?

AuthorsLachlan NisbetJon Walters

A smoking shotgun

The recent reporting in relation to Project Titanium has ignited discussion in the forums and shooting press. Project Titanium is reported as representing a new approach to firearms licensing, designed to protect firearm and shotgun certificate holders’ partners and better safeguard the public. 

Here, our firearms law specialists Lachlan Nisbet — Partner and Head of Regulatory and Professional Conduct — and Solicitor Jon Walters explore what Project Titanium involves and how it may impact firearm and shotgun holders.

This article was originally published in Gun Trade Insider.


What is Project Titanium?

Five police force areas — Gwent, the Metropolitan Police, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire — are trialling a process of compulsory, routine interviews with the domestic partners of certificate holders or those applying to become certificate holders ahead of grant or renewal.

At the interview, domestic partners are to be directed to complete a questionnaire in the presence of a police member of staff, usually a Firearms Enquiry Officer, on topics such as whether the applicant: 

If a questionnaire is not completed, the application is to be refused. Gwent Police, it’s reported, is seeking to extend the questionnaire process beyond immediate partners to other family members arguing that this gives an overall assessment of someone’s home life and other circumstances related to their suitability.

While Project Titanium is heralded as a new initiative, licensing managers and police officers involved in the licensing process will tell you that there’s nothing new about interviewing ‘those around’ a prospective or current certificate holder to give assurances about suitability.  

Police forces have long used DASH (Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour-based Violence) questionnaires, which appear to cover similar ground to the questionnaires being piloted in Project Titanium. It’s fair to say that DASH forms are more commonly deployed after the fact — i.e., after an incident or issue has been raised or on an intelligence-led basis — but it has been commonplace for years for officers to speak to those around certificate holders seeking to understand whether there are any concerns. 

The campaigners who have been involved in the shaping of Project Titanium have suffered immensely at the hands of their violent partners and the mainstream reporting has focused on the issue of domestic violence. The reduction of the risk of violence, particularly domestic violence, involving firearms is something that we can all agree is laudable but in reality, Project Titanium seeks to go much further. 


Home Office guidance

The February 2023 Home Office guidance sets out what is expected of police forces when assessing the suitability of certificate holders. Initial enquiries include the usual background checks largely relating to criminality, home visits largely relating to the sufficiency of security arrangements, the taking up of referees, medical suitability and social media checks.

Chief officers are directed to “carry out additional, non-routine, checks if, following the initial enquiries above, they believe them to be necessary to assess suitability fully”. 

The guidance provides a non-exhaustive list of these ‘additional’ checks which include:

Domestic abuse is, entirely appropriately, viewed as one of the most serious factors to be weighed in the suitability assessment process. The definition of domestic abuse as contained within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is widely framed, incorporating a range of behaviours beyond physical violence including sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological or emotional abuse. The guidelines make clear that evidence of one instance of such behaviour satisfies the definition — in other words, there needn’t be a course of conduct.

The use of the words ‘additional’ and ‘non-routine’ denotes that it is not intended that such checks should be undertaken in every case — only in cases where they are believed to be necessary to fully assess suitability. A blanket application of enhanced checks, such as those suggested under Project Titanium seems problematic in this context. The test as to whether or not to carry out non-routine checks appears to be extremely subjective but one would expect the police to record their justification for additional checks. 

It's also worth noting that courts dealing with firearms appeals are not subject to the usual rules of evidence and as such the court has a wide discretion to consider any material coming before it. Legal challenges seeking to exclude the product of a Project Titanium interview from evidence are unlikely to succeed. Future appeal cases may well simply have to engage with this type of material, seeking to undermine it or challenge it on a factual basis. 

Officers are obviously also urged to ensure that interviews are not undertaken in the presence of the applicant on the assumption that victims of domestic abuse are likely to be unwilling to speak openly with the police for fear of further violence or reprisals. The Home Office guidance makes clear that a partner or family member’s approval is not a requirement for grant or renewal — their views are not to be treated as determinative of the application in and of themselves. 

Confidentiality about the responses given in any such interview is obviously crucial but gives rise to practical difficulties for the police in the context of an appeal against refusal of an application. Information gleaned from interviews with partners, family members and others would ordinarily fall to be disclosed to an appellant in such proceedings in support of the police’s position. Particular orders need to be sought from the courts in order to prevent the disclosure of this sort of information. This is likely to introduce a significant cost burden which police forces — already under enormous budgetary strain — will no doubt be looking to offset against appellants. This may give rise to many more closed material appeal cases where the police seek to rely on information which is not shared with the appellant. A practical difficulty arises here too when considering protection of the abused person because it may be all too obvious what information is being relied on to justify the refusal. 


Can inferences be made from refusal to engage?

There is a sense with the way in which Project Titanium is intended to work that only those with something to hide would refuse to complete the questionnaire or meet with the police. There could of course be a whole host of satisfactory reasons why a person may decline to engage in the process outlined under this project and the resulting inference shouldn’t be that something must be wrong or that refusal will always be justified. Not all cohorts of society are trusting of the police for example. 

The Home Office guidance also directs officers to consider an applicant’s behaviour towards those over the age of 16 who are “personally connected” to them, opening the door to discussions with ex-partners and other family members. Many parents would be extremely reluctant to have their children spoken to as part of a licensing process — it could be a frightening and confusing experience for the child concerned.


Examining the Project Titanium questions

The Project Titanium questions cover a range of issues, many more than the reported basis of only domestic violence. Questions relate to suicidal ideation, whether the application would hurt a child or animal, links or fascination with criminality, the keeping of non-licensed weapons etc. Of concern are those questions which, if answered positively, would suggest that criminal offences have or may have been committed such as the use of illicit drugs or whether the participant knows where the applicant keeps gun cabinet keys.

There are also a number of questions which may in practice require some explanation such as whether the participant has “free access to money” (a nod to the possibility of coercive and controlling behaviour) or whether they have ever been fearful of the applicant. In both examples, context is important and so in practice there is likely to be questioning around the core question which doesn’t lend the process to a tick box exercise and provides an opportunity for the interviewee to be led.


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Jon Walters

Jon is a Solicitor in our regulatory team.

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Jon Walters

Lachlan Nisbet

Lachlan leads our regulatory and professional conduct team. He is acknowledged as the UK’s leading firearms and field sport lawyer.

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Lachlan Nisbet

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