Closures lead to more questions

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Temporary event notice License Officer

Couslson: questioning instant closure power
Couslson: questioning instant closure power
Peter Coulson investigates the licence suspensions of Humberside pubs linked to illegal streaming (via computer) of Premiership football matches.

I have been looking into the circumstances of the licence suspensions of a clutch of Humberside pubs linked to illegal streaming (via computer) of Premiership football matches.

What intrigues me is how this activity in itself renders the pubs liable to instant and, it would seem, long-term closure and loss of business.

First of all, copyright is essentially a civil matter, although criminal prosecutions are now fairly common. It is a breach of someone else's right, and it is normally up to them to take the first action — as the Performing Right Society and PPL demonstrate fairly regularly.

Secondly, under section 53A of the Licensing Act, drafted into the legislation in 2006, a summary review can only be sought where the police have given the licensing authority a certificate that the premises are associated "with serious crime or disorder or both".

"Serious crime" is defined in another Act and means that the offender who has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more, or that the conduct involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose.

There has to be something more, my instincts tell me, than merely streaming a football match to constitute something that will trigger such a review. In the past it has been extreme violence, a murder or drugs — not a bunch of guys watching a boring draw between Manchester City and Liverpool!

Instant closure is damaging

There are some questions to be answered here, and I am sure that it will all come out later. There seems to be an uneasy link between the soccer and the closure from the legal perspective that I would like to probe further.

As I have previously commented, the changes to licensing law have given far-ranging powers to the police and to local authorities, but they must act within the constraints of the law as it is laid out.

Closure is a serious matter, and the problem with any power of instant closure is that it has a hugely damaging effect on the viability of a pub, because the loss of business is far worse than most fines might be. This is why I have questioned the use by the police of a form of instant closure notice for breach of conditions (eg a defective CCTV) when in truth they need to apply to the magistrates first for a proper closure order. They have to play by the rules, too.


Site is already licensed

Q.​ We have several regulars who work for a local charity and they have asked me to run a bar for a charity event at a public site in the centre of town. I checked on the council website and it would appear that this area has been licensed by the council, but when I asked a licensing officer, he said I would need a temporary event notice. I thought this was not needed.

A.​ The whole object of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport's (DCMS) programme to encourage local authorities to license their own sites was to overcome this problem and make it easier for you to operate for events such as this.

I can only refer you to the DCMS website, where it publishes a list of the public open spaces (under "Local Authority Licensed Spaces" in the Licensing Act section) that are already licensed. Unfortunately, this list was compiled in March 2007 and last updated in January 2008, so it is now fairly out of date. I have not heard of any plans to update it, but it now seems long overdue.

It may be that the hours you want to open the bar are longer than those that the council has already established. Otherwise, if the site already holds a premises licence, you can come in and sell under that authority. It defeats the object of council licensing if this is not possible and you have to use up a temporary event notice instead.

Perhaps the officer has got it wrong. But you will have to check with him again to see what the problem is.

Pouring in another bar

Q.​ My barman has reported an argument with a customer at lunchtime who said that we were not allowed to pour a guest beer in another bar that he could not see. He was shown the pump, but he still maintains that all pouring must be in view of the customer. Is this right?

A.​ This is not correct. I suspect that the customer had confused the rules on metered dispense with those for hand pumps.

The rule on visibility only applies where metered dispense equipment is installed and consequently there is a possibility that unstamped glasses are being used in the premises.

Under weights and measures legislation, the requirement for stamped glasses is dispensed with as long as the dispense point " installed in such a position that the delivery of the liquor into the container can readily be seen by customers in that part of the premises where the buyer ordered the liquor".

So with metering equipment, the customer is entitled to see his pint poured in front of him, so that he can be sure that a full measure has been dispensed from the equipment. But with stamped glasses and hand pumps, that does not apply.

Refreshments for officers

Q.​ A friend has said that you will know the answer to this one: is it OK to serve a policeman with soft drinks and snacks, but not beer? Could I be prosecuted if I did so without realising?

A.​ Not under the new licensing laws. There is no obligation placed on the licence-holder or staff not to serve a police officer, even if he asks for a drink. It is an internal disciplinary matter if he drinks on duty. It is no longer part of the law, as the relevant section of the Licensing Act 1964 was not included in the new legislation.

A number of the minor restrictions of the old law, such as this, have been removed from consideration simply by omitting them from the 2003 Act, which meant they passed away on 24 November 2005!

Those licensees who enjoyed grandfather rights, such as I suspect you did, may not be aware of the smaller changes in the legislation, which tidied up the law in several respects.

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