AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Fireworks

Contents

Fireworks in England and Wales

While most people enjoy fireworks responsibly, in the wrong hands they can cause real misery. Too many people let off noisy fireworks late at night with no regard for the nuisance this causes their neighbours and animals in the area. A dangerous minority deliberately uses them to harass, intimidate and sometimes seriously harm those around them.

Laws against fireworks misuse

There are laws in place to protect communities from the misuse of fireworks. These are powers for the police to help tackle problems in their communities. Breaking the law by committing any of the following offences carries a £5000 fine or six months in prison, or both:

  • Throwing fireworks or setting off fireworks in public places:
Section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 prohibits anyone from throwing or setting off fireworks on any highway, street, thoroughfare or public place. A public place is anywhere other than someone's own back garden – the local park, streets, school yard and bus station are all public places.

  • Possession of adult fireworks by anyone under the age of 18 in a public place:
'Adult fireworks' are defined as any fireworks except for a cap, cracker snap, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents and throwdowns. This offence was first introduced in emergency legislation in 2003 and made permanent in the Fireworks Regulations 2004. Remember – even some sparklers are adult fireworks.

  • Possession of category 4 fireworks (public display fireworks) by anyone other than a fireworks professional:
This offence was first introduced in emergency legislation in 2003 and made permanent in the Fireworks Regulations 2004.

  • Curfew on fireworks use:
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 also made it an offence for any person to use adult fireworks between the hours of 11pm and 7am – except for 'permitted' fireworks nights. These exceptions, where the curfew start time is later, are as follows:

  • 5 November: 12 midnight
  • Diwali: 1am
  • New Year's Eve: 1am
  • Chinese New Year : 1am
Penalties for fireworks misuse:

  • A maximum fine of £5000 or six months in prison, or both
  • An £80 penalty notice for disorder (PNDs) for persons aged 16 and over
Other powers can be put to use where fireworks misuse is part of a wider anti-social behaviour problem. This could include acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs), dispersal notices and ASBOs.

For more information on ASBOs and ABCs, see our 'Anti-social behaviour' section.

Who is responsible for tackling fireworks misuse?

A number of agencies have responsibility for protecting the community from fireworks misuse, including the fire services, trading standards and local authorities; however, the police have a range of powers to take swift action in the event of a nuisance.

Police and community support officers

  • Can stop and search anyone they suspect of being in possession of prohibited fireworks.
  • Can issue £80 PNDs for anyone throwing fireworks (7 police force areas have recently piloted issuing PNDs to 10-15 year olds).
The police can prosecute individuals for:

  • throwing fireworks or setting off fireworks in public places
  • possession of 'adult fireworks' by anyone under the age of 18 in a public place
  • possession of category 4 fireworks (public display fireworks) by anyone other than a fireworks professional
  • use of fireworks during curfew times
Trading standards

Trading standards can enforce illegal sale of fireworks. This may include a seller selling fireworks without an appropriate licence, or outside the normal selling period, or to underage people. This also includes the sale of illegally imported fireworks.

Local authorities

  • Have a responsibility to ensure that sellers are correctly licensed (if the fire service do not have the responsibility locally)
  • Can use powers to enforce noise nuisances caused by fireworks, including issuing FPNs for noise offences
Fire service

The fire service has a responsibility to ensure that sellers are correctly licensed (if the local authority does not have the responsibility locally)

The community

The community has a responsibility to report any firework nuisances to the relevant authority. In the first instance, this will likely be the police, but it may be more appropriate to contact the local authority nuisance team.

Regulations on licensing and importing fireworks:

Two new regulations regarding the licensing and importation of fireworks came into force on January 1st 2005:

Licensing of fireworks suppliers:

Any person selling adult fireworks to members of the public for an extended period around the usual fireworks season dates, for example, Guy Fawkes and Diwali, must have a licence granted by the local licensing authority. This is likely to be either the local authority or the local fire service.

Importation of fireworks:

Anyone importing fireworks must now give details (including name and address, the name of the person storing the fireworks, and the address of the premises where the fireworks are to be stored) to HM Customs and Revenue.

HM Customs and Revenue, local authority trading standards officers and local fire and rescue services have a responsibility to ensure that strategies are in place to manage the licensing and importation of fireworks.

Stop and search powers

In addition, from 1st July 2005, section 115 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCA) introduced a further power for the police to stop and search an individual or vehicle suspected of being in possession of prohibited fireworks.

Fireworks in Scotland

The law is basically the same in Scotland. The Fireworks Regulations 2004 apply. However, section 115 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 does not extend to Scotland. (Some other parts of this Act do extend to Scotland.)

Fireworks in Northern Ireland

The Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 regulate the use of fireworks. They require a person who wishes to possess, purchase, sell, acquire, handle or use fireworks, to apply to the Secretary of State for a licence. The only exception to this rule is for Category 1 fireworks, i.e. sparklers and indoor fireworks.

Fireworks offences carry a penalty of up to £5,000 and/or a six month prison term.