Many of us greatly enjoy the benefits that the licensing regime brings us: access to entertainment, gambling and the odd drink or two. Of course, without the relevant license, life's little pleasures would be that bit harder to access. But what happens if concerns are raised regarding whether a business follows its license?
The License review
The most usual method by which a currently licensed business has failings to comply with the licensing regime addressed is through the process of a license review.
Generally, these reviews are instigated by the police or local authority, but residents are also entitled to make an application for a review. Usually, local authorities ask residents to first raise any concerns with them directly, but there is nothing preventing a resident, frustrated with inaction on the part of the local authority, to bring a review themselves so long as they have a case.
The main reasons why a review may be brought are the failure to comply with one or more of the licensing objectives:
- the prevention of crime and disorder;
- public safety;
- the prevention of public nuisance; and
- the protection of children from harm.
So long as there are grounds to show that the current operation of the business does not align with the licensing objectives above, a review can be brought.
The review itself
Contrary to other review procedures in other areas of the law, the license review does not take place in court. Instead, it forms an application to be heard before the local licensing committee. This committee has broad powers, including the ability to add or vary conditions on the license, the alteration of operating hours and the suspension or revocation of the license in the worst circumstances. However, the committee will only make an order where the steps suggested are appropriate and proportionate. There is little point in going for the severe option of a revocation without very good reason.
As above, bringing a review should not be the first port of call for a resident; issues should be raised with the police or local authority first. They can then deal directly with the licensee.
How to deal with bringing, or defending a review
So what are the best ways to deal with a review, either in bringing one or defending one?
If you are considering bringing a review then proper preparation is key. The committee will look very dimly on flimsy arguments. There should be documentary evidence of the impact on the community and the seriousness and duration of the issues as well as the culpability of the management, and whether the issues are worse than one would expect for similar premises. A Solicitor can help you prepare a case and present it effectively.
In terms of defending a review, communication is key. An authority will always look more kindly on a communitive licensee. Furthermore, a licensee that respects the licensing objectives and engages with the local authority is far less likely to be brought before the licensing committee in the first place! Engaging a Solicitor in this circumstance is also sensible, as it may be possible to negotiate a result that is beneficial for all parties, or robustly defend against the allegations.
Furthermore in defending a review a proactive standpoint will be of benefit: reviews of current procedures and suggesting improvements is more likely to encourage lenient action at the committee stage. Finally, if an issue does exist, reacting to those issues can only be of benefit, and suggesting changes to lessen future lapses is also a sensible move. That said, if an application for a review is based on flimsy evidence there is no harm in robustly, but fairly, challenging the basis for the review.
There are rights of appeal against a review decision directly to the Magistrates' Court. The test at the court is whether the decision made by the committee are correct at the time of the appeal hearing - meaning that collecting robust evidence should continue following the review if an appeal is likely.
Overall then, the right of review of a license is an important tool in the arsenal of the local authority, and even local residents, that all parties should bear in mind.
Of course, where communication and cooperation is adopted by both the licensee and local authority, the request for a review is a far less likely, and indeed the default position for all parties should be avoiding a review where possible. However, where a review is necessary, it is important that a case is prepared and presented as effectively as possible.
If you have any questions about licensing reviews, please contact Jeremy Asher.