Punch ruling could have UK-wide implications for Act

Related tags Licensing act Appeal License Leeds city council

A landmark court decision could undermine the terms of the Licensing Act and see licensees forced to meet onerous conditions when applying for a...

A landmark court decision could undermine the terms of the Licensing Act and see licensees forced to meet onerous conditions when applying for a premises licence.

Three judges at Leeds Magistrates Court have thrown out an appeal by Punch Taverns against Leeds City Council in the latest example of a council's over-zealous interpretation of the new Act.

Punch claimed that the conditions placed on four of its pubs, which included the fitting of a fire alarm in one premises and imposing a requirement to carry out safety checks at another, were unlawful under the principles of the Licensing Act and were a duplication of existing legislation.

Three judges, however, ruled on September 7 that the conditions on the licence were not "unnecessary or disproportionate". This is despite official guidance from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), which confirms the Licensing Act must not duplicate existing laws. Even Leeds City Council's own policy says: "In preparing this policy the Licensing Authority has sought to avoid unnecessary duplication of existing legislation."

In a statement, Punch Taverns, which could still appeal against this new decision, said: "We are disappointed with the decision made by the Leeds Justices in relation to these appeals, particularly given the fact that there have been no difficulties reported at any of the pubs in question.

"We cannot comment further until we have discussed the matter with our legal team and the retailers concerned."

Martin Rawlings, director of pub and leisure at the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said the ruling appeared to have contradicted the DCMS guidelines."The judges acknowledged this decision duplicates existing legislation," he said. "The guidance is clear that no existing legislation should be duplicated. We will need to look at this judgment very carefully."

A spokesman for the DCMS said: "We do not comment on individual cases and we have always said that, ultimately, it is for the courts to interpret the Act in the case of a dispute.

"As with any new legislation, we will monitor how the Act is working in practice and review its impact in due course."

Earlier this month, The Publican revealed that Preston City Council and St Albans Council were attempting to push through a backdoor smoking ban by demanding compulsory no-smoking areas on new licences if pubs allow children entry.

The BBPA could yet take more action against councils going too far with their interpretation of the Licensing Act, following the licensed trade's victory over Canterbury City Council in June.

Pictured: Leeds City Council.

Related articles:

High Court victory for pub industry (24 June 2005)

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