Flares, fireworks, and festivals

3 April 2017

From today (3 April 2017), festivalgoers with a passion for pyrotechnics will need to think very carefully before packing their flares and fireworks, as a change in the law now makes it a criminal offence to be in possession of these and similar items at live music events. 

Under Section 134 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, anyone caught with a ‘pyrotechnic article’ at a ‘qualifying musical event’ in England or Wales could face up to three months in prison and/or a fine. The Act itself provides a very technical definition of ‘pyrotechnic article’, but for the less scientific among us an explanatory memorandum accompanying the new law helpfully explains that such articles include flares, fireworks and smoke bombs. As to what ‘qualifies’ a musical event under the Act, this is defined by way of reference to the Licensing Act 2003; essentially, small musical events are not included. The best advice for anyone in doubt as to whether a particular event or device will be covered by the new offence is to simply err on the side of caution and not take potentially prohibited items with them.

The introduction of this offence reflects a growing concern over recent years of the dangers of pyrotechnics at live music events. According to the explanatory memorandum, 255 incidents of members of the public discharging flares or smoke bombs at gigs were recorded in 2014 and there are many stories of people being injured as a result, sometimes deliberately. It is already an offence to throw or discharge a firework in a street or public place, but because live music events usually take place on private property they have not until now been covered by the criminal law.

Any measure designed to protect the public, as well as musicians and event staff, from what are undoubtedly dangerous items, should be welcomed. Considering that flares and fireworks are already banned by most major festivals, yet still manage to make their way in and put people at risk of serious harm, it is difficult not to see this new offence as a necessary next step. The concern, however, is the criminalisation of something which is such an established part of festival culture that it may seem totally innocuous to many people. It is a common sight at festivals and other large outdoor music events to see the red glow of flares littered throughout the audience, such that there is a real risk of people failing to appreciate the significance of bringing pyrotechnics with them and unexpectedly ending up on the wrong side of the law.

It is therefore vital that organisers ensure that those who attend their events are made fully aware of the changes in the law and that the police perhaps adopt a common sense approach during the transition, acknowledging that it will take some time for people to become fully aware of how much more serious it now is to combine flares, fireworks and festivals. 

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