Police on wrong foot if forcing hand on hours

Related tags Police The police License Association of chief police officers

Two very worrying trends are emerging during the pre-application "jousting" in the transition period. Licensees are understandably vulnerable,...

Two very worrying trends are emerging during the pre-application "jousting" in the transition period.

Licensees are understandably vulnerable, because this is to some extent unknown territory. If you are going to vary your hours, exactly what do you write down, and who can give you the best advice?

Well, if you are in the north-east, clearly not the police. I have now had firm indications that police in that area are actually telling licensees that they will have to abide by police recommendations on additional trading times, and they are wasting their time in applying for more.

In other areas, it is reported that local authorities are actually encouraging residents near pubs to object to longer hours. I have no evidence of this, but it would clearly be relevant to the question of impartiality and could be a factor in an appeal if hours were curtailed.

The reported police actions do not surprise me. I have attended more than one local meeting where police licensing officers have issued not so much advice but a set of "licensing rules" to local landlords.

The choice of language in many cases gives the impression that these are fixed and backed by legislation.

When challenged later, the language changes and the claim is made that the police were merely providing helpful information. I make my own judgments on that.

In one example given to me recently, the licensing inspector is quoted as saying that she will not "allow" more than an extra hour. This is before any application has actually been lodged, or the individual circumstances of the applicant taken into account. This is zoning in all but name ­ a practice specifically disapproved in the official Guidance issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

In any case, it is not for the police to discuss the question of specific hours or to seek to persuade landlords not to apply for what they consider to be appropriate. The problem is that the police rely on the natural fear factor in order to persuade applicants to a course of action. Then, when the application meets their criteria, they can justifiably claim that it was freely volunteered.

It is unlikely that any suggestion of coercion would be sustainable in those circumstances.

But this situation is not what the legislation intended. Glaring examples of persuasion tactics should be brought into the open. But given the current stance of ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) on the question of flexibility, it is hardly likely to issue instructions to hold back.

The allegations of councils "taking sides" on the question of hours was always a major fear of the trade, so I take them with a pinch of salt at present. However, it is not a bad time to remind councils that they have a duty to listen to both sides of the argument, so that there may be a considerable number of local residents/ratepayers/voters who would actually welcome an extension of hours in certain circumstances, and to listen exclusively to one or two voices of protest is not acting fairly or judicially.

There was a famous case a few years' back where a council was found to be rejecting applications for public entertainment without a hearing if there was so much as one letter of protest.

The High Court said that this was clearly unfair on the applicant, who had no chance to counter any of the allegations, which were not even based on proper facts.

Letting people know of their right to object is one thing. But touting for opposition should be roundly condemned.

Related topics Licensing law

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