James Brokenshire can't mask a stitch-up

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act Local government

Coulson: there should be a proper consultation
Coulson: there should be a proper consultation
The Government's position is shoot first, ask questions later, according to legal expert Peter Coulson.

Home Office licensing minister James Brokenshire, like all good politicians, makes sure all the spin goes in the direction he wants.

In recent interviews on licensing reform, he has carefully avoided addressing the more radical elements of the shift in licensing controls and has concentrated on minimum pricing (a great divisive element in the trade as a whole) and who will pay the late-night levy.

He has also come up with the novel idea that all the reforms proposed in the document Rebalancing the Licensing Act have been on the table for a considerable time and that to express surprise at this stage is, in itself, surprising.

Really? I have been looking back over numerous comments and suggestions made by the Conservatives during the past 12 months and, although there are general-purpose diatribes against the licensed trade, low prices and drunken youths at weekends, I cannot see the raft of Licensing Act changes to give

overwhelming powers to the police and local authorities and to remove or curtail the appeals procedure as figuring strongly.

I will give you the scenario, as outlined in the consultation: under the revised Licensing Act, if the local authority does not like your operation, or if you have riled the licensing officer, your licence can be called in for review by the council without waiting for any representation.

Allegations from the police about street trouble near your premises are accepted without challenge by the licensing committee (because that's what the new rules allow). In spite of your protests, your licence is revoked. This revocation takes immediate effect, due to another change in the law, so you have to close. You can appeal, of course, but yet another change means the magistrates cannot re-hear the case and must send it back to the local authority for a final decision. The final decision is that your licence stays revoked, of course.

That method of licensing control is what Westminster Council and other hard-liners have been campaigning for. It flies in the face of natural justice, causes severe palpitations to lawyers but is ignored by politicians pursuing a particular agenda.

The position of this government seems to be: 'Shoot first and ask questions later.' It wants this scenario — or something very similar — on the statute book as quickly as

possible, then for some reason will take a pause before it is fully brought into effect.


As many have said: why the rush? The fact that there is a convenient Bill scheduled for the autumn is not really a valid reason — there is a regular policing or crime Bill in the offing every year.

A more fair-minded administration would have put these ideas out for a reasonable consultation, with evidence of the need for such radical amendments (I have yet to find any lawyer who thinks that there is such evidence available) and then a draft Bill exclusively devoted to licensing would be published for pre-legislative scrutiny.

This was something that became a huge issue at the time of the last Licensing Act and the then minister at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport admitted that such a

scrutiny might have ironed out the flaws in the legislation (as opposed to the political correctness of the measures).

Instead, we have a flurry of protest in the late summer, over which the Home Office will ride with its usual cavalier disdain (trade leaders are finding it exceedingly difficult to get an interview with any relevant minister) and the laws will be passed inside another measure which may take up the majority of the debating time — as certainly has happened with the last two amendment Acts.

It is a stitch-up, and Brokenshire's honeyed words make no difference to that!

Related topics Legislation

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