5 Essex Court has been leading the way as the 2003 Licensing Act has bedded in and its wider effects begin to be felt. New applications for premises licences are often giving rise to hearings as local residents and local businesses appreciate their ability to make representations – without risk of incurring costs – to prevent a growth in the number of licensed venues and to limit the nuisance caused by such premises. Even more significantly, the same local residents and local businesses are being joined by police forces in the exercise of their right to ask for existing premises licences to be reviewed. This opportunity will soon also extend to individual members of local licensing authorities.
Reviews can have far-reaching effects as a premises licence can make a vast difference to the value of commercial premises. It can also mean the difference between employment and the dole for licensees and their employees. Taking away – or limiting the scope or extent of – a premises licence which is already in force affects the Human Rights of its holder (even if that holder is a business).
Whilst review hearings are still held under the informal rubric dictated by the 2005 Hearings Regulations there are huge challenges:
Applicants will need to be able to marshal the facts and arguments in support of their applications
Objectors will need to understand properly the grounds on which they can make their representations, how to direct their concerns towards the appropriate licensing objective, how to provide enough evidence (both in form and content) to persuade sub-committees
Police will need to approach the preparation and presentation of review applications in a manner very different to cases in the criminal courts. These are civil proceedings where very different considerations apply to those with which most police officers are familiar
Authorities must understand how to hold quasi-judicial hearings where the issues are of high value and importance – not only commercially but for the reputation and status of the authority and of individual councillors. They have to be able to make a rational decision on the facts presented and to give reasons for their decisions that will withstand the scrutiny of the higher courts
Appeals to the Magistrates under the new legislation are lengthy and costly and should normally be avoided at all costs. If an appeal is inevitable it must be conducted carefully as the Magistrates are often likely to be inexperienced and there is no further right of appeal.