For several months I have urged holders of premises licences to check the small print of their new licence and its summary.
The reason for this, which bears repeating, is that the licence itself forms the legal basis for the way you run the premises. It is quite likely that the next pub up the road does not have exactly the same conditions as you do, however much some local authorities might like to have a standardised system.
So any variation from the conditions that are written out would need prior application to the licensing authority. Legally, if it finds you are operating in a way that breaches those conditions, you can be prosecuted under section 136 of the new Act, which prohibits the carrying on of "unauthorised licenseable activities".
Now in the old days, the main unauthorised activity might have been selling outside permitted hours. This is still a possibility, given that the term "permitted hours" is still appearing on licences in many parts of the country, but there is now a minor complication, in that the hours of operation for each set of premises may be different.
This is one of the reasons why the summary of the operating schedule has to be posted up - so enforcing officers, whether police or local authority, can
see what hours are actually allowed.
When everyone's hours in a district were the same, there was no need to check in advance. The police were fairly sure at 11.30pm that no sales should be taking place, and could act accordingly.
Now, they have to check the actual permission (which may have been altered) to ensure sales are taking place outside the terms of the licence.
But what may catch some operators out are the terms under which other activities are taking place, such as regulated entertainment. When the
application was put together, sometimes with a remote adviser such as a solicitor in another town, or appointed by the company, the terms of the existing activities may not have been accurately conveyed.
I have spoken to several managers and others who relied on the legal expertise of these advisers to compile a licence that fitted their requirements, only to find that the gap in time between the application as presented and the licence finally arriving had seen some fairly important changes. What they now find difficult to decide is whether to carry on as before, even though it is not strictly within the terms of their licence, or to ask for a variation to be made to bring the licence into line.
There is no doubt that the certainty of the old licensing system has given way to a
degree of uncertainty, both among the licensed trade and, it must be said, local councils, as to what is or is not covered by the new law.
This is particularly true in the area of entertainment, where the new Act requires the licence to cover not only the provision of the entertainment itself, but also the facilities for providing that entertainment.
The application form had separate boxes, and in some cases these were filled in differently. So it may be that two different times have been agreed for the actual entertainment and the provision of facilities!
The problem is that in making an application for variation at this stage, some pubs might be opening themselves to a whole new raft of objections, not necessarily centred on what they are asking for.
Several licensing authorities are of the view that objectors are not limited to the actual variation, once the matter is in the public domain.
This is something I want to look at in detail next week.