The coalition government has now pushed through laws to tighten up licensing in an effort to deal with antisocial behaviour. Matthew Phipps explains what this means for licence holders
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 has now become law, bringing into effect the coalition government's desire to clamp down on what it appears to perceive is an unnecessarily liberal licensing regime.
The coalition government's commitment to reform of the licensing legislation can be broken down into the following issues:
● Licensing authorities will now become responsible authorities
● The necessity test will be replaced by an appropriate requirement
● Early morning restriction orders may now be introduced
● A late night levy can be brought in by licensing authorities
● Temporary event notice procedures will change
● Premises licence holder's convicted of persistently selling alcohol to minors will face significant fines and/or revocation of their licences.
Under the existing system, licensing officers stood apart from the process, whether applications or enforcement, acting essentially as a mediator between the stakeholders.
However, licensing authorities will now become responsible authorities themselves, providing licensing officers with the right to serve representations and to call premises licence holders to review.
Currently, licensing authorities may only impose conditions on a licence that they deem to be necessary in the interests of promoting the licensing objective. This test has been a significant safeguard against the wholesale imposition of conditions 'just in case'.
The replacement of this necessity test with an appropriateness test is designed to lessen the burden on licensing authorities, so that they may more readily attach conditions they consider to be "appropriate". One can reasonably expect door staff, CCTV and polycarbonate glasses to be conditions attaching to a significant and wide variety of premises licences, even where they may not be deemed necessary.
Licensing authorities will also be able to prohibit the late night sale or supply of alcohol, essentially introducing specific prohibitions on specific areas. This turns on its head the philosophy underlying the Licensing Act 2003 and, although we await further detail as to how this may effectively be introduced, it would appear to suggest that some authorities will have the opportunity to significantly change the current night time economy.
Additionally, licensing authorities will be entitled to introduce a late night levy, a local fee, on premises which have permissions allowing them to trade beyond midnight. While we await further detail, it seems likely that premises that have late night permissions, but do not directly benefit from them may need to consider varying their licences to avoid liability.
Temporary event notice procedures will now be amended so that, as an example, longer notice periods will need to be given and the local environmental health team will have the opportunity to object.
Premises licence holders convicted of selling alcohol to minors, namely two sales within three months of one another, will now face much larger fines in the courts, and will almost certainly face reviews with guidance to licensing authorities to revoke the licence.
Additional amendments whereby local health boards will become a responsible authority, where the police's evidence is to be preferred against that of premises licence holders and others, and a much greater emphasis and encouragement upon the introduction of and, seemingly, the expansion of, cumulative impact policies within licensing areas will also follow.
Premises licence holders should initiate dialogue with their licensing authority and with the local police licensing officer, in order to see what local plans are proposed. We already know of some licensing authorities that are considering both the late night levy and early morning restriction orders, and premises need to ensure that they are consulted on any such proposals.
With the significant rise in enforcement activity across the last couple of years, premises licence holders would also do well to undertake a self-review of their operations and their own licences, to ensure they are compliant both with the letter and the spirit of the licence.
Ensuring that you have good open relations and dialogue with the licensing officers, while important before, would now seem critical.
Premise licence holders that fail to prevent repeated underage sales of alcohol would now appear destined to lose their licence in its entirety.
Those that rely upon temporary event notices risk losing the opportunity to put on events if they fail to adhere to the new procedures.
Premises licence holders wishing to develop their permissions, whether in terms of hours or licensable activities, face a much greater risk of refusal, or the attachment of conditions, and a greater financial burden than before.
Matthew Phipps is a partner and head of licensing at TLT