Coulson: Easing the task for minor variations

By Peter Coulson

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Related tags Proposal Patent

Coulson: Easing the task for minor variations
MA legal editor Peter Coulson is concerned over the attitude of police to licence variations

Next week sees the closing date for representations to be made to the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) on the proposal for a "fast-track" procedure for minor variations to licences.

The lack of news or comment about this measure leads me to believe that everyone thinks the recommended proposal is a done deal - it will be left to licensing officers to decide what constitutes a variation "which will have no impact on the licensing objectives."

As long as everyone is happy about that, good enough.

But one thing that concerns me is the attitude taken by the police in certain areas to variations in general.

There appears to be a view, implicitly supported by some licensing authorities, that the appearance of a variation application opens the floodgates to a new round of condition-making on all kinds of issues.

First of all, it is my strongly-held view that the delivery of a set of proposed conditions does not constitute a valid representation.

In some situations I have seen, the only response to the variation application from the police is an email or letter beginning: "These are the conditions we would like to see included..."

That is not good enough. The Act makes it abundantly clear that representations must be made about the likely effect of the variation on the promotion of the licensing objectives.

In other words, the police must address the issues first, and then suggest conditions which are relevant to that and which they feel would assist in that promotion.

Instead, what we are getting is formula-policing: we want these conditions to be attached wherever possible, and the variation application gives us the opportunity to put them on this licence.

Specific points

Licensing authorities should not accept such an approach. Instead, they should go back to the police and ask them to address specific points about the application as it stands, and to justify the reasons for the representations they then make.

If they cannot tie the proposed conditions in to the terms of the variation, then they should declare that the representation is irrelevant, not being about the likely effect of the application on the objectives.

For example, where an applicant is simply asking for an extra half an hour in the early part of the week, conditions concerning the presence of children during the day, or weekend door staff and CCTV are nothing remotely to do with it.

The making of the application does not present the police with an opportunity to "tidy up" the licence, as one officer inadvertently remarked to me. That is not their job.

There are a number of premises licences around the country with conditions on them which have nothing to do with the current operation of the premises.

They have been placed there by licensing authorities under the mistaken impression that more is better, and that conditions, like confetti, should be scattered around in celebration of their new administrative role.

Let us hope that the new minor variation procedure, when it comes, removes some of this opportunism and allows licence-holders to make much-needed changes to the premises layout and the offering for customers without the necessity for a time-consuming and potentially threatening application for a variation, with its costly advertisements and possible objections.

Clearly there will be occasions on which the licensing officer will consider the proposals to require more than a mere nod.

But for the most part, it is clear that a minor application for consent is a much-needed change in the law, and one that could well have been brought forward much earlier than this.

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