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Remember, remember the fifth of November...

View profile for Bede Finnigan
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As recently as 1959, it was illegal NOT to celebrate Bonfire Night in the UK, and with the big night fast approaching again, it is vitally important to appreciate the legal implications involved when using fireworks, sparklers or creating bonfires.  With modern fireworks travelling at speeds of up to 150mph, it is inevitable that serious injury will result from their improper use.

Although this pastime is no longer compulsory, its popularity remains great – but with both criminal and civil implications.

The major criminal implications involved with this night of celebration to note are:

  • it is illegal for anyone to set-off fireworks between 11pm and 7am throughout the year, except on Bonfire Night when this cut-off point is extended until midnight and on New Year’s Eve when it is further extended to 1am;
  • individuals must not set-off or throw fireworks (including sparklers) in the street or other public places.

These criminal offences may result in a £90 spot fine – but could also attract fines of up to £5,000 and six months imprisonment. [Fireworks Act 2003]

Potential civil liability arises from the fireworks themselves, in particular if they are defective. If injury occurs as a result of a faulty firework, there is a possibility that a claim exists against the retailer from whom the firework was bought. It is therefore important that when purchasing any fireworks they should be marked ‘BS7114 approved’ to comply with safety standards.

It is highly recommended, where possible, to attend officially organised displays, as the likelihood of injury at these events is significantly lower than at private displays. Nevertheless, the risk of injury remains;  recent statistics illustrate that out of the 990 firework related injuries recorded, there were still 121 that occurred at a public display.

The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 places a duty on all occupiers of land to ensure all visitors are kept reasonably safe.  Furthermore, public liability legislation places a duty of care on organisations which arrange these public displays to protect members of the public. Therefore if an injury occurs as a result of a breach of the organiser’s duty, the casualty will most likely be entitled to claim compensation for their injuries.

Remember, remember to stay safe this fifth of November