What does it all mean?

 

In the years leading up to the Millennium in 2000 there were voices all over the country calling for the existing liquor licensing laws to be scrapped and that licensing in England and Wales should dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into the twenty first century. Well there’s been plenty of kicking and screaming under the old system and more may be on its way.

 

The Government felt that the old system of ‘normally permitted hours’, which meant most places closed at 11.00pm was too restrictive. True it was possible to get certificates that extended hours up to 2.00am at the latest (or 3.00m in central London) but the system was said to be complicated and bureaucratic and split with some licences coming from the magistrates courts and some from local councils. A new simple system was needed to deregulate the industry and create a ‘light touch’. Whether the current Act, which is longer than the old one and the hundreds of pages of Ministerial Guidance, different local licensing policies and complex regulations, has achieved that is very much open to question.

 

What is certain is that abolishing normally permitted hours has opened up a potential minefield for local residents and businesses who live and work alongside licensed premises because there is no longer an agreed cut off point for the public, trade and residents and in future each premises has the potential to apply to trade 24 hours a day.

 

Of course, the vast majority won’t, but it makes it very difficult for local people living next to such premises who may be worried that later trading hours will have an adverse impact on their quality of life. Each case has to be argued on its merits. Well, that may be fine for a single pub in a small village. In that case, if there are problems it is pretty easy to trace the source and object. But if you’re in a town or city there are lots of premises of all types and how do you pin the problems you may start to experience on one particular premises?

 

The crucial point to bear in mind is that it all comes down to the evidence. If you are worried about a proposal to extend hours and/or increase numbers or the types of activity you can’t just object on a whim or a hunch. You have to back your worries up with as much evidence as you can gather and that evidence has to relate to one or more of the 4 licensing objectives or else it will be disregarded as irrelevant.

 

More positively once the new system is operating if a premises causes problems then there is a new power for local people as interested parties to call for a review of the premises licence. If the problems are severe that could mean new conditions are imposed or hours, numbers, activities curtailed or even that the licence is revoked. This is potentially a powerful sanction against bad behaviour by premises licence holders.

Licensing Act - 2003