Reviews of licences are a lotta do'nuts

Related tags Local residents License Officer

Reviews of premises licences are thankfully rare. But they remain an ever-present threat to licensees, because they can be started at any time, not...

Reviews of premises licences are thankfully rare. But they remain an ever-present threat to licensees, because they can be started at any time, not just by council officers or the police, but by local residents.

This paper has recently reported the pending review of a premises licence on two grounds, namely excessive noise and "inappropriate song lyrics". In fact, the song lyrics issue is entirely secondary to the main problem - live bands playing at a popular local venue.

I have had the benefit of reading the reports and representations, and it is clear that local residents feel they are disturbed by what is taking place.

As the new act beds in, the prospect of more reviews puts the spotlight on the way they are handled by local authorities. Because they involve a controversy between the complainant and the pub, the council has to act very carefully to ensure that the proper procedures are followed.

To the annoyance of some in the licensed trade, most councils give guidance for local residents on how to raise an objection, which is usually available on their website. The trade may see this as unfair, but councils already give guidance on a wide range of consumer complaints including noise, nuisance and pollution, and this is really no different. It does not mean that they are pre-judging the issue in any way - a decision on the review is taken by the licensing sub-committee, not those who gave the advice.

The council is also obliged to advertise the review, and in this case it is they and not the licence-holder who must place the blue notice on or near the premises, to alert local people to the fact that a review of the licence is imminent.

But by far the most important aspect in the early stages of a review requested by an interested party (as opposed to a responsible authority) is for the licensing officer to determine whether the request is appropriate.

A complaint can take many forms, but not all complaints can come within the terms of the Licensing Act.

So the decision has to be made as to whether the representation is about the actual licensing objectives, whether it is frivolous or

'vexatious' and also whether it is a repetition of a previous complaint which has already been rejected.

To crib from my American friends, that's a lotta do'nuts! Any idea that an untrained junior officer can make such a judgement is just not on. But the Government has decided that it is the job of an officer - not the committee.

There is, unfortunately, no statutory provision for mediation at this stage of the game, as there is implicitly with applications for new licences or variations.

I am sure that mediation can and does occur, but once the decision has been taken that there is a valid case to answer, then the review hearing must go ahead.

However, this is where the statutory guidance kicks in. The committee is not bound to take any more specific action than to issue a warning to the licensee about the conduct of the premises.

For example, it does not have to remove hours of operation or live entertainment, but it could insist that the landlord takes appropriate steps (e.g. to improve soundproofing or install a noise limiter, in the case of severe disturbance).

It may be that at the hearing it is satisfied that the message has got across and that the operator will take steps to remove or alleviate the problem.

This "final warning" approach is one that is recommended - because if there is further nuisance, the committee can take into account the fact that it gave the operator a chance to make changes and can impose more serious sanctions as a result.

Related topics Licensing law

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