The limits of responsibility

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Premises Licensed premises Premises licence holder License

'Anything goes': Peter Coulson thinks new Act could put more strain on licensed trade
'Anything goes': Peter Coulson thinks new Act could put more strain on licensed trade
There is really nothing new in licensing. I see that a great fuss is being made in certain circles about a recent case concerning noise from departing customers.

The licensee submitted that he could not be held responsible for what happened after people had left the premises, but this was rejected by the magistrates’ court.

Local authorities are understandably keen on this type of pronouncement, because it once again extends the responsibility of licensees beyond their own premises.

However, to suggest that this is a ground-breaking decision is wrong on two counts.

First, it is only a decision in the magistrates’ court, albeit by a district judge. As such it is not binding on anyone else and can only be cited as an indication of views elsewhere. Seeing as district judges have a habit of contradicting each other on a regular basis, you take from it what you will.

Second, the debate about late-night noise outside premises has a long and illustrious pedigree. There were leading cases under the old law in relation to special-hours certificates, where it was held that action against late premises need not be confined to what went on inside the doors, but could extend to disturbance caused in surrounding streets, if it was felt that the licensees could in some way be held responsible.

Changes afoot

But the case and its surrounding brouhaha has significance in the light of the impending licensing law changes in the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act.

It will add fuel to the view held in certain local authorities that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to holding the licensed trade responsible for any aspect of the late-night scene in town and city centres.

The Act gives power to impose a charge or levy on licensed premises to assist policing in the early hours. This policing will also be required outside takeaways and in pedestrian precincts, but the charge will still only be levied on the licensed trade.

There may also be some form of curfew imposed on licensed premises. In addition, the condition-making powers of the licensing authority will be enlarged so that they can impose any conditions that they consider ‘appropriate’ rather than necessary.
This is where I foresee the major clash between licensing committees and the trade’s lawyers.

If conditions are imposed that seek to create obligations reaching far beyond the actual conduct of the premises, where does it stop? How far can you extend the responsibility of a premises licence holder and pub staff in relation to their past customers? Can you compel the trade effectively to ‘police’ the city centre because of what a small minority of their customers might do after they leave the pub?

For some considerable time there has been a debate about the relevance of conditions. This will assume even more importance if the proposals by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on freeing up regulated entertainment go ahead.

There are numerous conditions on premises licences concerning noise and crowd control that may have to be fought over, because I do not think that licensing committees will allow the removal of any conditions that they consider ‘appropriate’, notwithstanding that the law on entertainment has changed.

Licensing is once again being used as a ‘catch-all’ for a wide range of controls that are effectively covered by other legislation or separate responsibilities.

I predict that you will see considerable resistance in certain quarters to the DCMS proposals, particularly in relation to live and recorded music, and to the proposed level of 5,000 people.

There are bound to be some compromises and the outcome is by no means guaranteed.

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