Q: I operate a small wet-led public house and I recently made a foolish mistake. I have been there for over five years and never had any issues with the police or the licensing authority. However, because I was struggling to make ends meet, I accepted some bottles of whiskey on which duty had not been paid.
Unfortunately, a routine police visit with trading standards discovered these and there has been a review of my premises licence.
Much to my surprise, my licence has been revoked and I want to know whether I should appeal within the allowed 21 days. A friend of mine has advised me that I have a good chance.
A: This is not as straightforward as it would appear. On the face of it, the decision of the licensing committee appears to be a harsh one bearing in mind your five-year, problem-free trading, which I trust the committee took into account.
However, possessing and selling ‘smuggled goods’ is serious and the Licensing Act guidance makes it clear that it is one of those matters where a licensing committee can properly consider revocation at a review.
The way an appeal works legally is that you would have to show that the licensing committee’s decision is wrong and the magistrates must have to regard that.
The licensing committee may, at the appeal, argue that they regarded the issue of smuggled goods to be a particularly serious criminal activity and perhaps there is evidence of it being an issue in the area, which they considered to be an aggravating feature.
Your argument is likely to be that you are a respected operator who has simply made a mistake and you should not be penalised for that by the loss of your business and livelihood. However, a hard bench of magistrates may have some sympathy but find that it would not be right to interfere with the local authority decision.
The other issue is one of costs. The appeal, if you lodge it, will enable you to carry on trading under your licence but you are at risk of having to pay the local authority costs if you withdraw the appeal or lose following a hearing. You also run the risk that, if there is any further issue, for example, there is an incident at the premises, that this could be used against you at the appeal hearing.
In conclusion, you must carefully consider your options; if you are in a lease or tenancy situation then speak to the area manager responsible as a matter of urgency. If, as you say, the pub is not doing particularly well then this may be an opportunity to look elsewhere if you are able to.
However (and here is more bad news), the landlord may well not appreciate the fact that you have put the licence at risk and may be reluctant to offer you an alternative within its estate.