Council-power worries

Related tags Licensing authority Council of the european union

One of the main principles of the new-style licensing legis- lation, which the Government held to in spite of fierce opposition from local councils,...

One of the main principles of the new-style licensing legis- lation, which the Government held to in spite of fierce opposition from local councils, was that licensing authorities should be 'honest brokers in terms of the licensing applications that came before them.

For example, if an application resulted in no representations at all from the police and other responsible authorities, and the public appeared content, the licence must be granted as requested. It was not for the licensing authority to set its own rules and conditions, or to alter what was requested.

That was the theory. But it is clear to me that in spite of what the Government set as the rules, a number of local authorities are being far more proactive, especially with those who do not know any better.

This comes also in the wake of the Canterbury case taken by three of the trade bodies, which held that the idea of policy over-riding the principles of the Licensing Act was not acceptable. If you presented a decent set of proposals with adequate safeguards, the council could not impose its own more stringent conditions in the absence of any representations on the point.

To my mind, there is no doubt that councils such as Westminster are not sticking to the rules even now. They were particularly annoyed by the Government's policy on curbing their discretion, so they have engineered a situation whereby you have to dance through fire in order to obtain your own requests during the transition period.

I make no apologies for revealing that the licensing department of Westminster Council shares an office with the police licensing officers. That's right, in the same building, within hailing distance. This means that if the council doesn't like a particular request in an application, all they have to do is to shout across for an objection and hey presto! an objection will appear.

That overcomes the first 'problem about no representations. When you have your own direct line, impartiality is not necessary.

Westminster has now sent a letter round about transition, suggesting in no uncertain terms that it may not have time to process the mediation proceedings allowed for by the Act. This is where representations are made and not withdrawn, and there is meant to be an attempt to reach a compromise between the objector and the applicant, so that a hearing is unnecessary.

What worries me is that Westminster is clearly implying that it has rules with which you must comply, or you will fail to achieve your grandfather rights. In particular, if it is unhappy with your answers to the questions on 'additional steps you intend to take to promote the licensing objectives one of the most difficult sections of the whole variation form then it will consider that your application is either defective or it will be refused at a hearing.

To deal with the defective nature of applications first, there has to be some specific fault with the form to allow rejection. A view by the licensing authority that you have not completed box Q to its satisfaction is not a ground for rejection.

What should happen is that a representation is received on that point by a responsible authority and then a change or addition is agreed between the parties as necessary, if possible, prior to a hearing being needed.

If the applicant thinks that what is being asked is unnecessary or over-bearing, then he or she can argue his or her case at a hearing, and then appeal to the magistrates.

The problem is that time is short and you are in their hands. It is not a happy situation.

Related topics Legislation

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