I wrote in the 9 June 2016 issue about the House of Lords select committee, which is reviewing the Licensing Act 2003, and last week I had the rather daunting pleasure of being called as a witness for the legal experts’ panel. The committee is due to publish its findings in March 2017, and has already taken written and oral evidence from a host of different organisations and individuals.
Performance, regime and simplified structure
There is not enough room here to outline the breadth of their enquiries, but just to give you a flavour, here are some of the questions that were asked at the legal experts’ panel session that I attended:
■ How effectively has the Licensing Act 2003 operated over the past 11 years?
■ Do licensing sub-committees perform their duties effectively and impartially, and what could make them more effective?
■ Should the licensing regime work more closely with other related regulatory regimes, in particular the planning regime?
■ Is it beneficial to have the complexity associated with the current licensing regime, or would a more simplified structure be better?
There were questions about the way in which the police performs its functions as a responsible authority, and also the way that it presents evidence.
Further questions about the police related to whether section 19 Closure Notices (under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001) were now being used appropriately (ie, as a warning) rather than being improperly used to close premises down immediately. We were also asked whether the statutory guidance was weighted too heavily in favour of preferring police evidence.
The select committee was also interested in whether the appeal system works well, and whether the relatively few number of appeals to the magistrates’ court was a reflection of good decision-making by licensing sub-committees, the cost and delay of going to appeal, or some other reason.
The committee wanted to know whether another tier of appeal, for example, to the crown court, mediation or some other tribunal (perhaps similar to planning) might be advantageous.
Other questions related to the Government’s proposals to place cumulative impact policies on a statutory footing and whether this went far enough, and the lawfulness or otherwise of some local authorities’ schemes on banning or restricting super-strength alcohol.
It was quite a lot to fit in for a one-hour session. For my part, it seems that the select committee is approaching the whole issue of the Licensing Act with an open mind and trying to obtain as much evidence as possible from a whole host of sources before making such recommendations as it sees fit.
The licensing world will be waiting with baited breath come March 2017.