Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act
It has been confirmed that most of the licensing provisions contained in this Act will come into force on 6th April. The exceptions are Early Morning Restriction Orders and Late Night Levies, which are both currently the subject of consultation. All operators and other interested parties are urged to respond to these consultations by the April closing dates.
There are several major procedural changes that will come into effect next month, which will affect the majority of operators in one way of another:
The Licensing Authority (ie the body that actually receives and processes all the licensing applications) is to become a Responsible Authority in its own right. This means that it will not only process the paperwork and hold hearings on contested cases, but it will also be able to make representations/objections to applications. Quite how this will work in practice remains to be seen – if the licensing authority makes a representation in respect of an application submitted to it, how can it then hold an impartial, unbiased hearing to decide that application? And what sort of useful objection could it make, given that the police, EHO, and other statutory bodies already cover all the issues surrounding premises licensing.
The Environmental Health Authority is to be given formal notice of Temporary Event Notices. At the moment, the police are the only body entitled to object, and then only on public nuisance grounds, but this new, extra burden of satisfying the EHO that an event is not going to cause noise, disturbance etc is a further hoop for operators to jump through. The impact of this measure remains to be seen, but it may be worth lodging applications for any events you plan to hold later in the year before 6th April, to avoid the necessity of formal notification to, and input from, the EHO.
The abolition of the "vicinity" test for objectors could have far reaching consequences. In an extreme case, it would enable a member of the public to object to every single new application in the country, regardless of whether they are directly affected by the application or not. New openings could be hard hit by an increase in costs, administrative burden and time delay. Again, the economic implications for a hard pressed licensed trade could be considerable.
The change in wording from "necessary" to "appropriate" lessens the burden of proof on licensing authorities when considering whether to impose conditions on premises licences. They will only need to have regard to whether a proposed (probably restrictive) condition is appropriate for the particular premises, rather than whether it is necessary in the individual case. We could be seeing new premises licences with pages and pages of superfluous conditions attached; surely not in the spirit of the Licensing Act 2003 which promised to simplify the whole licensing system!