Licensing appeals to flood courts

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Chatting with the Westminster justices' office the other day, I learned that instead of the expected winding down of activity, they are winding...

Chatting with the Westminster justices' office the other day, I learned that instead of the expected winding down of activity, they are winding furiously up. The reason? Day after day, they are receiving notice of appeals against the city council's decisions.

With many thousands of licensed premises in the capital, it is a mammoth task to process all the transitional applications, especially when so many of them came in at the last minute. But the problem in Westminster is compounded by the considerable opposition to increases in hours and the regular refusals of applications duly made for variations.

It will be the same in certain other densely-populated areas of the country, I have no doubt, but the sheer volume in West-minster is going to cause major problems for the courts. The appeals are likely to run into hundreds, and there just is not the court time or the availability of magistrates to hear all of them between now and the second appointed day on 24 November.

They will do their best to fit them in, I am sure, but with the number of variations still to be heard by the licensing authority itself, there is going to be no slow-down in references to the magistrates on appeal, unless a couple of things happen.

One is that a particular decision is made which affects the likely outcome in a number of kindred applications. This would normally only be possible if someone within the City takes a particular point to the administrative court, rather than to the magistrates. But again, time is not likely to be on the side of appellants, unless they can persuade the business managers and the judges that it needs to be heard quickly.

The second is, of course, a change of heart by Westminster on some of the less contentious matters, so that more variation applications go through with some relaxation of time and conditions.

Alas, my own feeling is that this will not happen either. There is a very entrenched view in the West End of London, with strong opinions from the responsible authorities that I have already mentioned on this page, coupled with a firmlyworded policy document that Westminster vigorously defends as being appropriate for its unique situation.

The result may be that a number of variation appeals will not have been heard by 24 November. This means that those premises will retain their 'grandfather rights, as long as their Part A application has been accepted. But they will not be able to open for any longer hours, or remove restrictions, until the outcome has been decided by the bench.

Related topics Licensing law

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