Come what may, a licensee is still master of his own house

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Human rights, Law

Coulson: Licensee is still master of own house
Coulson: Licensee is still master of own house
News that the persistent young man banned by Buckingham Pubwatch wants to try and persuade the Court of Appeal to overturn a judge's previous ruling...

News that the persistent young man banned by Buckingham Pubwatch wants to try and persuade the Court of Appeal to overturn a judge's previous ruling should not cause individual licensees concern.

They are still masters of their own house, and, in truth, any finding on the actual issues would not affect that important right.

Clearly, this individual has legal support — probably in the family — and that is why he wants to chase what appears in essence to be a lost cause. It seems likely that the next appeal judge will take the same view, and that should be an end of the matter.

The issue is whether informal groups such as a pubwatch are covered by the same laws that would apply to official or government organisations. Two tribunals have already held that they are not, and as the facts are clear there does seem little to tip the balance and require a full hearing.

It is true that the Human Rights Act, following the European Convention on Human Rights, has tipped the legal balance, so that all courts are duty bound to examine whether a particular action taken by such bodies as a local authority has infringed someone's human rights.

There have been some notable successes, and it has persuaded a number of people with less worthy claims to try the human rights path. A few years ago, one shopkeeper in Bristol tried to persuade the authorities not to grant an alcohol licence to a rival store on the grounds that it would affect his business and, therefore, his right to trade!

What in this country pre-dates human rights by a considerable distance is the common law, under which we still operate in spite of so much new legislation. That has been upheld on numerous occasions by the British courts, especially when it comes to issues involving the right to be served, or to remain on premises where you are not wanted.

The important point, which I am glad to repeat often on these pages, is that a public house is not a public place. It is a private establishment open to the public at the behest of the licensee or person carrying on the business. When a person enters those premises, he does so because the licensee has invited him in and invited him to ask for a drink or a meal.

This is a critical distinction: it is the customer who makes the offer to purchase, and the licensee who accepts, not the other way round. So if the licensee does not want to make the contract, he just has to say no.

That refusal is more or less unqualified, because the licensee is free under the law not to make that contract. The only way in which that refusal could be held to be illegal is if it was manifestly done contrary to statute law — in this case discrimination on the grounds of colour, ethnic origin, sex or sexual orientation and now age (but clearly refusal because someone looks under 18 is not illegal discrimination).

When you ban someone because they have threatened or carried out violence, or have been abusive to you or your staff, or to other customers, you have acted entirely within your rights. Even if you banned someone because you did not like their views, you would be on entirely safe ground.

We are, thankfully, some way from the situation where political correctness means that you must serve every person who turns up at the door. You can be selective, and no Court of Appeal currently has the power to remove that right from you.

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