Without the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), sporting shooting in Britain would be very much worse off and some forms "might not exist at all", according to the judge in a tax tribunal appeal hearing brought against Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise.
Judge Colin Bishopp ruled that the services provided by BASC, the UK’s largest shooting organisation, are essential to the sport of shooting in the UK. In his decision in favour of BASC, Judge Bishopp, sitting in Manchester, said of the Association and its work: "In my judgement it is an inescapable conclusion that, without its campaigning, advisory, educational and land management activities sporting shooting in the United Kingdom, in all its forms, would be of materially poorer quality, and in some forms might not exist at all." In allowing the appeal, Judge Bishopp also indicated that BASC could and should seek a reimbursement of its legal costs.
The appeal by BASC was made against a ruling which imposed VAT on part of its income which had previously been tax exempt. The legal victory could have far reaching implications for many other sports in the UK. The tribunal decision could bring benefits to many other sporting organisations since it enlarges the definition of "essential". Previously it had been argued that to be essential BASC had to provide the guns, birds, land and other necessities for shooting, but this was overturned.
Barrister Andrew Hitchmough, who represented BASC, explained that to be essential wasn’t simply a matter of providing the facilities. He said: "The court asked ‘would shooting of the same quality be available without BASC?’ and the answer is no, so BASC is essential."
This has clear relevance to other sporting bodies that do not necessarily provide all the facilities for their sports but whose presence ensures the quality or availability of their sport.
Mr Hitchmough said: "We showed that without BASC wildfowling would be virtually non-existent and that a number of laws would have made private ownership of firearms virtually impossible."
In summing up the evidence, Judge Bishopp said that it indicated that BASC is unique in the United Kingdom. He continued: "It is clear to me from this unchallenged evidence that it is a far from fanciful proposition that, if BASC or some equivalent did not exist, there would be significantly greater restrictions on shooting than are in fact in place, and that the available facilities would be of a poorer quality."
The judge drew attention to the evidence comparing the quality of shooting in the UK with that in Europe where "policies of, at one extreme, tight regulation and, at the other, laissez faire have led to a diminished quality of sport." He also agreed that much of what BASC does is of benefit to the community at large.
The evidence which BASC had submitted to the tribunal showed the full range of the association’s activities from providing shooting opportunities to training and lobbying and Judge Bishopp noted: "In particular it endeavors to persuade legislators away from imposing what it sees as unwarranted restrictions on shooting and the possession of firearms by demonstrating that shooting does not represent a danger to the public but has benefits, such as the control of vermin and the production of food."
The decision is of considerable importance to BASC’s finances although it could take up to two years for the full benefits to work through the system and to see how HM Revenue and Customs will apply the decision.
BASC spokesman Simon Clarke said: "This is the end result of several years’ work which has resulted in a resounding endorsement of the work carried out by BASC to promote and protect sporting shooting."