Who is responsible for a licence in the blame game?
The recent licence review in Stockton, reported elsewhere in this issue, raises once again the debate about the actual role of the designated premises supervisor (DPS) in the new licensing scheme.
This individual was a late creation of the Government not mentioned in the White Paper, but added into the Act at the last minute after pressure from the police, who wanted someone to be "accountable" for the conduct of the premises.
The truth is that the premises licence holder has ultimate responsibility for what takes place there, and has to face the music if there are illegalities. So there is, at times, a definite conflict between the interests of the company and the interests of the DPS when it comes to the blame factor.
It is, of course, true that there must be a DPS for each premises where alcohol is sold. The name is given on the licence and appears on the licence summary, which is posted up at the premises. The police ought by now to know the name of the DPS of each of the pubs in their area, because they are notified directly when that individual is appointed or changes.
In the Stockton case, the evidence was that the relevant authorities and the police had dealt directly with the DPS in respect of management deficiencies and in particular underage sales, which triggered the review. But, of course, the fact of a pending review would be known to the company that held the licence, because they must be notified in advance.
It is then that the problems occur. Who is to blame? The company employs the DPS and the normal rule of law is that this makes the company responsible for his or her failings. But in the case of a licence review, although legally provided, it is not a court of law. Nor is it a punishment tribunal. It exists for the local authority to sort out the problems at the premises and perhaps provide some remedies.
One of those remedies is the replacement of the DPS, if the committee thinks that the perceived problems are down to bad management of those particular premises. But who sets and supervises the management techniques or procedures? Of course, it is the company, but they do not want the licence put in jeopardy. They are more likely to accept the removal of the DPS as a price worth paying for keeping the pub open.
Cynical I may be. But 'twas ever the case, even under the old law. When a company was hauled up in front of the justices for some infringement of the 1964 Act, the company representative would often tell the justices that it was all down to the manager/tenant who had been replaced and a new regime had taken over that was far more efficient.
This meant that the licence survived, the company looked good and the only loser was the dismissed or removed licensee.
In this instance, the accused DPS tried to say that it was the company's responsibility to ensure compliance. This is true to the extent that the DPS does not personally have a criminal legal responsibility in law for acts committed by others. Where he is not the holder of the premises licence, and is not present, there are no direct sanctions against him. But that does not prevent the licensing committee seeking to remove him from his role at the pub, because the 2003 Licensing Act specifically provides for this to be done on review.
It does mean, however, that the DPS should be allowed to speak in his own defence if a review takes place that could jeopardise his job. Otherwise, he is between a rock and a hard place, with both the pub operator and the committee baying for his blood!