Legal Advice

Expect a flurry of law changes to impact pubs

By Jonathan Smith & Andy Grimsey

- Last updated on GMT

Expect a flurry of law changes to impact pubs

Related tags Personal licence Court Crime Government

It looks as though the licensing world is about to see some important legal changes - many of which it could be argued are overdue.

Aside from some deregulation, the licensing world has seen little in terms of change since the overhauls brought by the Live Music Act 2012 and Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act 2011. That may be about to change.

The Policing & Crime Bill was introduced to parliament on 10 February 2016. While it may not mirror the more radical changes of a few years ago, the bill does seek to make a number of important changes that many would argue are overdue.

Amending the definition of alcohol

I wrote an article in July 2015 regarding the emerging new ways of consuming alcohol.

From powdered alcohol (Palcohol) which was portable and transformed into a cocktail when mixed with liquids; to the rather more bizarre Bompas & Parr invention of ‘Alcoholic Architecture’, which allowed customers to breathe alcohol that had been vaporised. There was much excitement and hype around these new inventions.

One does question: “Are these even alcohol at all?” and the Government clearly wishes to ensure that there is no ambiguity as these products begin to develop. The current definition of alcohol under section 191 (1) of the Licensing Act 2003 is “spirits, wine, beer, cider or any other fermented, distilled or spirituous liquor” and while this is a wide definition, the Government are attempting to ensure that there is some clarity. The challenge of ensuring the promotion of the licensing objectives is made more difficult if there are loopholes in the law and this is no doubt why this particular amendment has been included within the bill.

Removing the requirement to be laid before parliament

There is a requirement for any change to the guidance to the 2003 act to be laid before parliament for approval. Changes to the guidance are currently subject to the ‘negative resolution’ procedure, which essentially means they will automatically be approved unless objections are raised by the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Since the 2003 act came into effect in 2005, there have been no parliamentary debates about changes to the guidance.

Therefore, the proposal is to allow any changes to the guidance to be made without parliamentary approval.

Amendments to the summary review process

Most practitioners and operators who have been the subject of a summary review will welcome the clarification of what happens to interim steps pending an appeal. Section 53A of the Licensing Act 2003 offers little clarification and different cases have provided differing interpretations.

In short, if the police determine that the premises are associated with serious crime and disorder, they may make an application for a ‘summary’ or ‘expedited’ review of the premises licence, involving a hearing within 48 hours, followed by a full review hearing.

The licensing authority may impose ‘interim steps’ or temporary conditions pending the outcome of the full review hearing (28 days later) however, the difficulty has been determining whether those interim steps fall away when the decision at the full review has been made or whether they continue to have effect throughout the period for any appeal.

The bill proposes to alleviate any confusion and make provision for the licensing authority to be required to determine, at the full review hearing, what interim steps, if any, will remain in place pending the outcome of any appeal (if made) or the expiry of the 21-day period for an appeal to be made.

Providing licensing authorities with the power to suspend or revoke a personal licence

At present, it is unusual for a personal licence to be suspended or forfeited because this power is reserved for the courts and, rather unsurprisingly, most personal licence holders are reluctant to declare to the court that they hold a personal licence for fear of it affecting their ability to carry out their job.

This is despite the fact it is a criminal offence to fail to declare that you are a personal licence holder, when convicted.

The current situation leaves the undesirable situation of some personal licence holders being convicted of offences which are relevant to their suitability (or lack thereof) to hold a personal licence, but still continuing to do so.

The Government, therefore, proposes to extend the powers that courts currently have (and will retain) to licensing authorities. As with most matters handled by the licensing authority, the licence holder will have the opportunity to make representations and to appeal to the magistrates court if they are aggrieved by the decision.

Updates to the list of ‘relevant offences’

The final update is the addition of a number of ‘relevant’ offences to the 2003 act. In summary, these include a number of sexual offences; violent offences; the manufacture, importation and sale of realistic imitation firearms; using someone to mind a weapon and terrorism-related offences.

The bill received its first reading before the House of Commons on 10 February 2016 and will now proceed to its second reading.

Jonathan Smith & Andy Grimsey work for licensing lawyers, Poppleston Allen and can be contacted here​.

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