There have been several high profile cases in the last 12 months in which operators (both remote and non-remote) have been on the wrong end of regulatory sanctions and financial penalties imposed by or agreed with the Gambling Commission.  In October 2018, Paddy Power Betfair reached a regulatory settlement of £2.2 million following breaches of social responsibility code 3.4.1.  In the same month, Mark Jarvis Limited agreed to pay £94,000 for breaches of the same social responsibility code.

In March 2018, Bonne Terre Limited t/a Sky Betting and Gaming were found to have weaknesses in their self-exclusion procedures and to have breached social responsibility code 3.5.3, which led to a divestment of gross gambling yield of £241,894 and £750,000 financial penalty.

Electra Works Limited received a financial penalty of £350,000 for breaches of conditions relating to marketing and advertising.

It is rumoured  that several operators are currently approaching the final weeks of Gambling Commission regulatory action and it is reasonable to expect a similar number of cases being reported for non-compliance of licence conditions and codes of practice in 2019.

On Tuesday 12 February 2019, the Gambling Commission announced further rules for online operators intended to make gambling safer and fairer.  Any new rules place  a further requirement on operators to ensure all that policies and procedures comply with the changes and these new rules increase the  focus on online operators.

The Gambling Commission reported that until now, online gambling businesses had been allowed 72 hours to carry out age verification checks.  Winnings could not be withdrawn until age verification had been completed.

To further guard against the risk of children gambling, the new rules mean that operators must verify customer age before:

  • The customer can deposit funds into an account
  • The customer can gamble with the licensee with either their own money or a free bet or bonus.

This is a significant change and requires verification prior to any gambling taking place.

The Gambling Commission stresses that this also applies to those customers who want to access free to play versions of gambling games on licensees’ website.  Whilst free to play games , with no prizes, are not technical gambling, there is no legitimate reason, say the Gambling Commission, why they should be available to children.

The new rules do set out information as to what is expected of licensees:

  1. Licensees are expected to verify as a minimum, the name, address and date of a birth of a customer before allowing them to gamble.
  2. To ask for any additional verification information promptly.
  3. To inform customers before they can deposit funds of the types of identity documents or other information that might be required, the circumstances in which the information might be required and how it should be supplied to the licensee.
  4. To take steps to ensure that information on their customer’s identity remains accurate.

One of the complaints during the last 12 months has been that operators do not ask for this information until the customer wants to cash out.  The changes mean that operators must ask for the ID as a condition of gambling rather than just cashing out.

Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, was quoted on the website as saying “these changes will protect children and the vulnerable from gambling related harm and reduce the risk of crime linked to gambling.  They will also make gambling fairer by helping customers collect their winnings without unnecessary delay.  Britain’s online gambling market is the largest regulated market in the world and we want to make sure that it is the safest and the fairest”.

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for DCSM, agreed and said that this extra layer of protection for children and young people is added so as to protect the vulnerable.

The new rules come into force on 7 May 2019.

Already, post Grenfell, there has been millions of words written and spoken about the necessary changes required to make people safer from the risk of fire, particularly where they live.

The Government announced in December that they intend to implement the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackett’s review into Building Regulations, with particular regard to fire safety.

A little known part of the Government’s position on fire safety goes beyond changes for high rise residential buildings. The Government accepts that now the same changes are perhaps desirable in other buildings which are primarily not residential, but have the ability to create multiple deaths/injuries should a fire occur.

Whilst a number of different types of premises spring to mind from schools and hospitals to stadiums and shopping centres, other places of entertainment surely would fit within this scope.

It is therefore a distinct possibility that the changes we are seeing effecting high rise buildings in the residential sector will be equally applicable to other “high risk” buildings.

We may also seem a move away from “self certification” of a premises of it’s fire safety arrangements contained in the fire risk assessment, to the previous state of affairs where a Fire and Rescue service issue a certificate, warranting the safety arrangements of a particular premises.

The potential change away from self-regulation to inspection and certification, certainly is in keeping with the changing style of the fire and rescue authorities post Grenfell. Just from my own personal experience, I have seen much more activity by Fire and Rescue services, in terms of enforcement since the disaster.

A number of clients face significant prosecutions in an area where the emotions generated sometimes make it difficult for clients to have a fair and proportionate hearing.

Woods Whur’s regulatory team will explore this topic in more detail at our forthcoming seminar and hopefully you will be able to join us to continue the debate on what is a proportionate way of maintaining safety in an area where getting it wrong has all too well known consequences.

Readers may have already seen the report by the London Night Time Commission which was published at the end of January. For those who haven’t had the opportunity of reading this in full, please click on the link below.

https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ntc_report_online.pdf

This is a very interesting document which has been created by the London Night Time Commission. The commission is made up of a varied sector of people ranging from industry representatives to a commander in the Metropolitan Police Service, Kate Nicholls the Chief Executive of UK Hospitality and various London Borough personalities.

The recommendations to come out of the report have been fed into the Mayor of London to consider shaping any future policy. The recommendations are as follows:-

  1. The Mayor should put the night at the heart of London policy making. He should introduce a Night Test for all new policies to rate their impact on London’s culture, sociability, wellbeing and the economy at night.
  2. The Mayor should produce Night Time Guidance for Borough’s. This will help them develop holistic night time strategies that go beyond the night time economy and cover all aspect of their town centres and over areas between 6pm and 6am.
  3. The Mayor should set up a London Night Time Data Observatory. This central hub of data on the economy, transport, licensing, infrastructure, safety and health would help Borough’s create their Night Time Strategies and inform local decision making.
  4. The Mayor should publish an annual report on London at night. It should include a series of night time metrics that shows his progress in implementing the night time commission’s recommendations and achieving the ambitions of his 24 hour city vision.
  5. The Mayor should establish a Night Time Enterprise Zone fund that Boroughs can bid into, starting with a path finder zone in 2020.
  6. The Mayor should carry out research to establish the case for longer opening hours across London.
  7. The Mayor should help establish new partnerships across the capital to improve safety, reduce violence and make London welcoming for everyone at night.
  8. The Mayor should develop guidance to help Boroughs, landowners and developers create welcoming, safe and vibrant public spaces at night.
  9. The Mayor should set up a Late Night Transport Working Group to ensure that workers, visitors and customers can get around London quickly and safety at night. The group should consider extending night services, introducing a “Night Rider” fare that allows workers to move between bus, tube, train, DLR or tram in a single fare, and encourage more use of TFL’s land and buildings at night.
  10. The Mayor should extend the remit of London and partners so that they can promote London’s night time offer to Londoners.

These recommendations are dealt with in detail in the report which is well worth a read.

Moving into action from this report will be very interesting. Clearly, every London Borough has its own approach to the night time economy in its specific area. Most London Boroughs have very specific localised statements of licensing policy which have been developed over a significant period of time.

It will not be easy to integrate any London wide recommendations suggested in the report on a local basis and there would be much work to do at a local level to take up these recommendations.

The main suggestion in the report is that the London Night Time Data Observatory would be created to centralise data on the economy, transport, licensing, infrastructure, safety and health, to inform policy makers.

The high street faces significant challenge in its retail function and many believe that a mixture of residential and leisure opportunities will replace some of the dying retail operators. There is real vision in this thorough report. Kate Nicholls states, “We can extend the opening hours of our traditional cultural offerings to reach more Londoners and we can bring underused spaces to life at night and help tackle the decline of our high streets.” These are laudable aims but they come with a considerable challenge. We have found it is particularly difficult to challenge stress areas and cumulative impact policies where Boroughs have deemed that it would be detrimental to the licensing objectives of crime and disorder and public nuisance to either add additional sites or increase the hours of operation. There would need to be a considerable change of emphasis at a local level if the hopes contained in the report stand a realistic chance of having a practical impact.

We will continue to monitor the development of the issues raised in this policy statement.

James, after an extensive and very competitive process, has been appointed a Coroner for the County of Durham and Darlington. James is now responsible with his fellow Coroners to investigate violent and unnatural deaths in this area, together with other deaths which the law specifies require scrutiny such as deaths in police and prison custody.

This is a prestigious appointment for James and reflects on the expertise he has in the investigation of deaths, particularly in the workplace setting.

This is a part time appointment for James and he will continue with the firm dealing with all regulatory matters as well as representing clients at inquests where they require guidance and support.

We all, at the firm, wish James well for his appointment and should you have any questions touching upon inquests and investigation of death, James will only be too happy to answer them for you.

Anna Mathias

Posted by Woods Whur | Woods Whur

It is with great sadness that we learned over the weekend of Anna’s sudden passing. Everyone at Woods Whur is devastated at the loss of a fabulous work colleague and friend. Anna was only in the office a week ago and as usual, she filled the place with her own special personality.

We were delighted when Anna agreed to join us in February 2015 as Andy and I had known, respected and liked her for many years. Even when she was on the other side of cases, she was fair and decent and we held her in the highest of regards.

Very soon after she joined us, we realised that we were very lucky. Not only was Anna a superb technical lawyer, an immensely hard worker who was loved by her clients she was most of all, a beautiful kind-hearted person that lit up our office. Her eccentricities helped to make her an even more special person to be around. Turning up for a meeting with me at Kings Cross with Poppy Terrier on a lead, getting on the wrong train home after her 50th Birthday celebration….and ending up staying the night in Harrogate, are just a few examples of her unique and loveable character.

Talking to her clients yesterday has made Andy and I realise how respected she was within her circle. Some very emotional conversations have made us realise how her personal approach and professionalism, had touched the lives of many within our industry.

Two special occasions stand out for us. We held a surprise 50th Birthday party for Anna just after she had become engaged to Viv and we had a fantastic day with Anna, capped off by her night in Harrogate. The real highlight was seeing her reaction when we won the Yorkshire Legal Awards Best Niche Law Firm in October last year. She was the natural representative for the group photo, and she danced the night away.

All of our love is with her Mum, Brother and fiancé Viv as they go through the worst of times.

It will never quite be the same at Woods Whur without our lady in red.

Rest in peace Anna, you will forever be in our hearts.

 

The recent trial, and subsequent imprisonment, of a husband and wife who operated a bouncy castle at an event that led to the death of a young child have highlighted the risks when you allow third parties to operate events or attractions on your premises. Whether it is something that you do free of charge to your customers to draw them in, or as a way of generating venue in its own right, the risks are still the same.

There is a great temptation, when paying for someone to come on to your premises to run an attraction or an event, simply to allow whoever it is to run the activity as they see fit. However, just paying their fee does not absolve you of responsibility, should the attraction cause injury or worse, or indeed if the persons delivering the event themselves are injured.

The tragic case mentioned at the beginning of this article demonstrates that attributing blame to those who operate the attraction does not absolve those whose premises it is from exercising some due diligence.

When booking entertainers, attractions or anything of that type, you need fully to understand the risks associated with any activity, no matter how benign you think the act or attraction is.

You should check that the performer or entertainer has risk assessments in place for the activity and that any equipment that they bring to the premises is well maintained and suitable.

While on your premises, they should be aware of your health and safety arrangements, and these should be brought formally to their attention. In addition, documentation should be created to show that they are aware of what you require and the standards that you maintain.

While those persons are on your premises, you have an obligation to keep them safe, together with carrying on oversight of what they are doing, to ensure that those affected by their actions are also protected. This entails robust supervision of what they are doing and how they are doing it. If your standards are not met, there should be prompt intervention to resolve the issue or stop it.

A number of clients over the years have been prosecuted for accidents and injuries where they themselves played no active part other than acquiescing and allowing their premises to be used for a particular activity.

Such a “hands-off” approach will not absolve you of blame, either in the criminal or civil courts. An active risk-assessment and ongoing management of who you have let on to your premises has to take place to prevent the type of accident that will, not only bring criminal prosecutions and civil proceedings, but also have a lasting and overwhelming, brand-damaging impact on your business.

After years of lobbying and debate, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport finally issued its much-anticipated Consultation on society lotteries and their financial limits on 29 June, via Tracey Crouch MP, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society.

The sector has long been campaigning for an increase in the financial limits which apply to society lotteries, which currently stand at annual total proceeds (ticket monies) of £10m, proceeds per draw of £4m and a maximum top prize of £25,000 or, if more, no more thank 10% of the proceeds. This effectively means that, at present no-one can ever win more than £400,000 as a top prize in a society lottery.

Of course, this is all designed to protect the position of the National Lottery as being the only lottery product where one might hope to win a life-changing sum. However the society lottery sector has argued that the current financial limits hamper its ability legitimately to raise money for good causes and the Government is now re-evaluating the position, recognising that society lotteries are “a fundamental part of the giving landscape” and acknowledging the views of many charities who say that money from society lotteries and the National Lottery are “complementary sources of funding that enable us, in different ways, to carry out our vital work.”

The Gambling Commission’s (“GC”) advice to Government is that the recent growth of the society lottery sector has not been to the detriment of National Lottery sales. The pervading view currently seems to be that the two can peacefully co-exist and that, indeed, the society lottery market might even encourage participation in the National Lottery.

This Consultation, then, seeks to enable the society sector to grow in a sustainable manner and in a way that is complementary with the National Lottery. The Government’s “preferred options” are to:

  • increase the per draw sales limit to £5m;
  • increase the annual sales limit to £100m; and
  • increase the per draw prize limit to £500,000.

Whilst the annual limit is perhaps what the sector was after, many will be disappointed with the proposed modest increases for individual draws. The prospect of an increase to a £10m individual draw limit remains on the table, though – but so does cutting it to £2.5m, or leaving it as it is. Government is also looking at leaving the annual proceeds limit in place, or raising it only to £50m rather than £100m.

All of this only applies to large society lotteries, licensed with the GC. For small society lotteries registered with Local Authorities, the Government has no preferred view; instead, the Consultation suggests leaving matters as they stand (ticket sales of £20,000 per draw and £250,000 per year) or raising them to £30,000 or £40,000 and £400,000 or £500,000, respectively.

There is no doubt in my mind that this constitutes a pivotal point for the society lotteries sector and that what emerges as a result of this Consultation will shape its future for many, many years to come.

It is therefore essential that all in the sector and anyone with an interest in using lotteries (or raffles, which are the same thing in law) have their say before this Consultation closes at noon on 7 September. A link enabling you to do so is here:

https://dcms.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6lieJGckYiFSrM9

We will, of course, report on the outcome in a future edition of our Newsletter.

The Gambling Commission (“GC”) has just released its “Raising Standards for Consumers” Enforcement Report 2017 – 2018, which includes a clear message from the new Chief Executive, Neil McArthur, as well as a number of exposes of anti-money laundering (“AML”) cases which have been brought by the GC.

I made it clear at our conference at the Hippodrome on 8 May 2018 that poor practice would not be tolerated and that the industry as a whole needed fully to ensure that its AML policies and procedures were fit for purpose.  There have been a number of review cases brought by GC between 2016 and 2018 and there is no doubt at all that there will be further cases brought by the GC, if the industry does not keep pace with AML requirements.

A failure to comply with the AML Regulations could in all likelihood lead to a licence review, significant penalties and potentially revocation of the operating licence.

The GC document includes sections on AML, customer interaction, self-exclusion, unfair terms and practices, marketing and advertising, together with its final section on illegal gambling.

Neil McArthur introduces the document and confirms that the aim of any enforcement work is to “raise standards” in the industry.  The fact that standards need to be raised should set a clear message for all to understand.  The GC is still finding many examples of leading operators who do not have the requisite AML policies and procedures in place and, even when the requisite policies and procedures are in place, they are often not implemented by staff.  In my experience, this is one of the key issues that the industry is now having to deal with.  It may be that an operating company has very good policies and procedures and it may be that technically those procedures have been written to comply with the AML Regulations.  However, if staff dealing with customers do not fully understand these policies and procedures and do not implement them, then the policies and procedures are not worth the paper they are written on.

Neil McArthur continues by confirming that the GC will seek to raise standards through targeted action (that drives a culture where operators act in a way that:

  • minimises the risk to the licensing objectives and reduces gambling-related harm;
  • puts the interests of consumers first by treating them fairly and communicating with them in a clear way that allows them to make properly informed decisions; and
  • is open and co-operative with the GC as the regulator.

The industry is urged to look at this document, to learn lessons from the examples set out in it and to collaborate to achieve best practice.

This is the first time that the GC has published a review of its enforcement work over the past year and the document focuses on enforcement work under the Gambling Act 2005 and does not cover the Gambling Commission Regulation of the National Lottery.

The message is very clear.  Licensees are on notice that a failure to adhere to the guidance in both this document and within the GC’s public decision notices may see the regulator bringing enforcement action more swiftly and with higher penalties, if the GC is of the view that lessons are not being learned or if the issue in question has been uncovered by the GC or another authority.

Similarly, operators can expect lesser penalties if they report the matter to the GC promptly, co-operate during the investigation and proactively look to rectify matters.

I would urge the industry to read this document and pay careful attention to it.

I have seen a recent increase in concerns over “bottomless brunches” or “bottomless prosecco” promotions at a number of licensed premises. This resulted in a recent case where the Police were threatening to prosecute an operator client of mine for breach of a mandatory condition. However, these were quality premises, offering food with the promotion, with no suggestion of any negative impact from what had become a popular attraction. The premises were well managed, the promotion was well supervised and there had been no reports of drunkenness as a result of the promotion. We entered into a long series of discussions with the Police who were very uncomfortable about the bottomless brunch. We helped the operator draft a guidance document for all staff to be trained on how to manage the promotion and finally the Police accepted that this was not an irresponsible promotion.

Where are we then with how irresponsible promotions are defined and should be avoided by operators? The principle of an irresponsible promotion was introduced into licensing legislation through the mandatory conditions attached to all premises licences which authorise the sale of alcohol.

The Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010 (“the 2010 Order”) set out five new conditions that apply to all premises in England and Wales authorised to supply alcohol under a premises licence or club premises certificate. The first three of these conditions came into force on 6 April 2010. This included the condition dealing with irresponsible promotions.

The Home Office issued a specific Guidance document in 2014 which helps with understanding the reasoning behind these conditions and this can be found at the link below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/350507/2014-08-29_MC_Guidance_v1_0.pdf

The relevant sections of the Guidance document state as follows:

The 2014 Order states that the responsible person must ensure that staff on relevant premises do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotion, as listed below, where that promotion is carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale of alcohol on the premises.

Drinking games

This includes any game or activity that requires or encourages (or is designed to require or encourage) individuals to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit, or to drink as much as possible. This does not include “drinking up time”, shortly before the end of licensed hours.

The application of this prohibition is not subject to a judgement of risk, and so any game or activity that falls within it would be in breach of the condition.

Examples of this type of activity include drinking relay races and drinking challenges based on quantity.

Provision of alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted fee. This prohibits the provision of an unlimited or unspecified quantity of alcohol for free or for a fixed or discounted fee if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective.

Rewards for consumption of alcohol

The new conditions ban the provision of free or discounted alcohol or any other thing as a prize to encourage or reward the consumption of alcohol over a period of 24 hours or less if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective.

‘Significant risk’

The application of these prohibitions is subject to an assessment in any case about whether the activity in question would give rise to a significant risk of breaching one or more of the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder;
  • Public safety;
  • The prevention of public nuisance; and
  • The protection of children from harm.

Factors that may be considered when deciding if a promotion is irresponsible may include:

  • Type of promotion:

o How big is the discount?

o For how long does the discount apply?

  • Potential customers:

o Is there likely to be a significant increase in the number of customers?

o What is the profile of the customer base?

  • Type of premises:

o Is it a high-volume vertical drinking establishment or a community pub?

  • History of premises:

o Have previous promotions been handled responsibly?

o Has the licence been reviewed recently?

o Have sufficient security measures been taken for any potential increase in the number of customers?

If there is any doubt as to whether the promotion the operator is planning to run falls foul of this new mandatory condition, The Home Office strongly recommends that the operator discusses its proposals with its local licensing authority and/or police before running the promotion.

So the Guidance is pretty helpful in setting out what the Home Office believes are factors which will indicate whether the promotions are irresponsible. This is a judgement call. It does not mean that, per se, a bottomless brunch or prosecco hour is automatically irresponsible. The criteria above, if followed, can ensure there is not a “significant risk” to the licensing objectives being compromised and therefore the promotion would be legitimate and permissible.

The most recent version of the S182 Guidance also deals with the issue.

Para 10.39 states:

Under this condition, the “responsible person” (defined in the 2003 Act as the holder of a premises licence, designated premises supervisor, a person aged 18 or over who is authorised to allow the sale or supply of alcohol by an under 18 or a member or officer of a club present on the club premises who can oversee the supply of alcohol) should be able to demonstrate that they have ensured that staff do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotions. An irresponsible promotion is one that fits one of the descriptions below (or is substantially similar), is carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises. The aim of the condition is to prohibit or restrict promotions which encourage people to drink more than they might ordinarily do and in a manner which undermines the licensing objectives.

Drinking games

10.40 Drinking games which require or encourage individuals to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit, or drink as much alcohol as possible within a time limit or otherwise, are prohibited. For example, this may include organised ‘drink downing’ competitions. This would not prevent the responsible person from requiring all drinks to be consumed or abandoned at, or before, the closing time of the premises. Nor does it necessarily prohibit ‘happy hours’ as long as these are not designed to encourage individuals to drink excessively or rapidly.

Large quantities of alcohol for free or a fixed price

10.41 Irresponsible promotions can include the provision of unlimited or unspecified quantities of alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted price, where there is a significant risk that such a promotion would undermine one or more of the licensing objectives. This includes alcohol provided to the public or to a group defined by a particular characteristic, for example, a promotion which offers women free drinks before a certain time or “all you can drink for £10”. Promotions can be designed with a particular group in mind (for example, over 65s). A common sense approach is encouraged, which may include specifying the quantity of alcohol included in it or not targeting a group which could become more vulnerable or present a greater risk of crime and disorder as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.

Prizes and rewards

10.42 The sale, supply or provision of free or discounted alcohol or any other item as a prize to encourage or reward the purchase and consumption of alcohol can be within the definition of an irresponsible promotion, where there is a significant risk that such a promotion would undermine one or more of the licensing objectives. This may include promotions under which free or discounted alcohol is offered as a part of the sale of alcohol, for example, “Buy one and get two free” and “Buy one cocktail and get a second cocktail for 25p”. This includes promotions which involve the provision of free or discounted alcohol within the same 24 hour period.

So the original Guidance and the most recent Statutory Guidance is particularly helpful. If properly managed and supervised, then these are nor irresponsible promotions. The key phrase from the Guidance is perhaps, “A common sense approach is encouraged, which may include specifying the quantity of alcohol included in it or not targeting a group which could become more vulnerable or present a greater risk of crime and disorder as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.”

So, think it through. Plan ahead. Advertise carefully. Have a training and supervision plan prepared. Make sure what you are doing does not pose a significant risk to the licensing objectives and everything should be fine. Should you encounter any difficulties as an operator or an enforcement agency, then do not hesitate to contact me to discuss the issues that have arisen.

For those of you following the Grenfell Tower inquiry, you may have noticed an about-face by the Government about who presides over it.

The retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, was appointed as the Chairman, but he now seems not to be able to undertake the role alone.

After initially opposing the introduction of other panel members alongside the Chairman, the Prime Minister has recently changed her position and has indicated that two panel members will be appointed to examine the cultural and community reasons behind the fire.

It is fair to say that this has been a direct result of pressure applied by survivors and the families of the victims, together with local community groups, a petition signed by over 156,000 people and other self-appointed interested parties connected with the disaster.

Whilst it is cornerstone of the judicial system in this country that the citizen is heavily involved, from jurors to lay magistrates to councillors, they all operate in a system which is designed to be fair and transparent and in which decisions are reached through an assessment of the relevant evidence.

Whilst the appointment of the two panel members to the inquiry could be seen as relatively innocuous, it could be seen as the start of a “slippery slope” regarding the involvement in inquires, hearings and similar, where political pressure forces changes to well-established processes, whether it be a public inquiry into a disaster or a Local Authority Committee deciding on a Premises Licence.

We have to guard very carefully against the unwarranted intrusion of those with their own agenda, despite how noble or well-intentioned they are. It should not interfere with the correct and proportionate assessment of evidence leading to a just and fair conclusion/decision.

When a Senior Appeal Court Judge of 20 years’ experience is deemed by community groups not to be able to call and martial, as well as assess, evidence, and reach findings without “interested” persons being involved, then in my view it sets a dangerous precedent for any hearing dealing with emotive issues, whether they are the deaths of 71 people or the grant of a licence in an area which is already crowded with licensed premises.

Opinions and viewpoints are always welcome in the process, but they must always be considered as submissions to be considered by the Court, hearing, tribunal or committee. It is a dangerous step when those that have a vested interest suddenly become the judges themselves.