Licensing control fight faces set-back

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Related tags: Brighton

Accusations of inconsistency could undermine the fight by magistrates to retain control of licensing under planned reform.Licensees in Brighton &...

Accusations of inconsistency could undermine the fight by magistrates to retain control of licensing under planned reform.

Licensees in Brighton & Hove are angry that their requests for extended summer opening hours were rejected by the local licensing bench, despite a similar extension being granted by a neighbouring bench.

The city's licensees claim the decision is yet another example of inconsistency by licensing benches, which further undermines the trade's support of calls for licensing responsibility to remain with magistrates rather than transferring to local authorities.

The local licensed victuallers association (LVA) acted after another East Sussex resort, Hastings, had a similar application granted by its local licensing bench for the second year running.

As in Hastings, the application by Brighton & Hove LVA for an extra hour's opening on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the summer months was made on the grounds that the city's economy is reliant on tourism.

The solicitor acting for the LVA argued that the tourist trade constituted grounds for ruling that summer weekend evenings amounted to a series of special occasions when an extension could be granted.

The application was supported by Brighton's three MPs, as well as the local director of tourism, but opposed by local police.

However, the bench ruled last month that a seaside tourist trade was not in itself grounds for a special occasion extension. Roy Skam, chairman of the legal and licensing committee of the Sussex Society of LVAs, said: "We're at a loss to understand why the local police opposed the application, when the Association of Chief Police Officers has given its support to the White Paper on licensing reform.

"Until now, we've supported magistrates retaining control of licensing, but after this we're reconsidering our position."

He claims there are numerous examples, including the Hastings case, where magistrates have granted such extensions.

While an appeal has been ruled out on cost grounds, Brighton & Hove LVA will take legal advice before making a decision on whether to lodge a new application.

Last year, Hastings magistrates granted an application from the Senlac Licensed Businesses Association, which represents pubs in Hastings, for an extra hour's opening in the summer.

A spokeswoman for the Hastings licensing bench said: "There were no problems last year, and the police had no objections when the application was made again this year, so magistrates were happy to grant it."

Extensions have also been granted in resort towns Weston-Super-Mare and Scarborough.

Ann Burton, chairman of the Brighton & Hove bench, said: "Hastings is the only court in Sussex to grant this application, and its decision was not one the justices in Brighton & Hove were bound by or, indeed, considered they could lawfully follow.

"I am aware that this puts local licensees at a disadvantage, but until Parliament legislates for longer drinking hours, justices can only act within the law as it stands."

Related topics: Licensing law

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