Facts crucial for pub hours cut

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Related tags: Licensing objectives, Law

Earlier this week, judgment was delivered in an important case on the weight to be given to residents' fears over later hours for pubs. Those who...

Earlier this week, judgment was delivered in an important case on the weight to be given to residents' fears over later hours for pubs.

Those who deal with licensing will know that any number of objections to licences over many years have been based on Daily Wail-type scare-mongering, which is not backed by any evidence, or even probability.

However, both benches and licensing committees have been swayed by such suggestions, and praise is due to brewers Daniel Thwaites for persevering without industry back-up on such an important issue.

They sought judicial review of a decision by Wirral Magistrates to uphold a local residents' association appeal against the hours for one of its pubs, which had already been in operation for some time with no complaint. That was important, because it was abundantly clear that there was no actual evidence to support the view that the longer hours granted had, in fact, been prejudicial to the licensing objectives.

Even the police had withdrawn their objections and in evidence had said that no trouble emanated from the hotel.

In the High Court, Mrs Justice Black agreed with the contention from Thwaites' counsel David Pickup that the magistrates had no proper basis for reaching their decision to cut back the hours. She also commented that in their submissions to her court, the magistrates had indeed underlined the fact that they were letting their own views override the evidence — or lack of it — and the observations of those most closely connected with crime and disorder, the police.

In particular, she was critical of the approach to the question of "migration". This is where objectors claim that because of a difference in hours, people will migrate from closed premises to those still open.

She rightly raised the point that migration in itself is not necessarily an evil (it is in Westminster) and that it is only when problem customers do so that difficulties occur. In any event, there was no evidence at all of migration being an issue, even with the objectors. This was just a fear of the bench itself.

Her decision will send a good signal not only to the magistrates on appeal, but also to licensing committees on how they should view the statutory Guidance on hours and the promotion of the licensing objectives. In particular, it highlights how important it is to take a balanced and detached view of unfounded allegations and not allow personal prejudice to affect licensing matters.

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