It is Sunday afternoon, I have walked the dogs and my Yorkshire Puddings are rising nicely as I prepare Sunday dinner for the family. My day off comes to an abrupt end when the operators of Area Nightclub (home of Gatecrasher) contact me to see if I can help them. There has been a major incident in the premises overnight, and as a result of stabbings that occurred, the premises have been closed immediately via a Closure Notice issued by South Yorkshire Police.
Anyone who has dealt with the legislation will know it is very impactful and immediate and can lead to a business disappearing pretty quickly. The legislation in question is the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. This removed s161 of the Licensing Act 2003 and replaced it with the new powers which are available in respect of a wider list of premises, not just licensed premises.
CHAPTER 3 Closure of premises associated with nuisance or disorder etc is the Chapter of the legislation which is relevant. Section 76 of the legislation deals with the power to close premises immediately by service of a closure notice.
S76(1) A police officer of at least the rank of inspector, or the local authority, may issue a closure notice if satisfied on reasonable grounds—
(a) that the use of particular premises has resulted, or (if the notice is not issued) is likely soon to result, in nuisance to members of the public, or
(b) that there has been, or (if the notice is not issued) is likely soon to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises, and that the notice is necessary to prevent the nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring.
(2) A closure notice is a notice prohibiting access to the premises for a period specified in the notice.
(5) A closure notice must—
(a) identify the premises;
(b) explain the effect of the notice;
(c) state that failure to comply with the notice is an offence;
(d) state that an application will be made under section 80 for a closure order;
(e) specify when and where the application will be heard;
(f) explain the effect of a closure order;
(g) give information about the names of, and means of contacting, persons and organisations in the area that provide advice about housing and legal matters.
(6) A closure notice may be issued only if reasonable efforts have been made to inform—
(a) people who live on the premises (whether habitually or not), and
(b) any person who has control of or responsibility for the premises or who has an interest in them, that the notice is going to be issued.
(7) Before issuing a closure notice the police officer or local authority must ensure that any body or individual the officer or authority thinks appropriate has been consulted.
So, the notice had been served, the premises were emptied of customers and were to remain closed for 24 hours, the maximum period permitted under S77(1) of the Act. This was then subsequently extended by 7 hours, as is permitted under S77(4) if authorised by a superintendent.
This meant that I needed to get to the premises and conduct a full audit, including looking at the CCTV and all management controls. Time was tight as, once a notice is served, the snowball is rolling down the hill and picking up pace, as the court must consider whether a closure order should be imposed within 48 hours of it being applied for.
The legislation is brutal:
S 80 Power of court to make closure orders
(1) Whenever a closure notice is issued an application must be made to a magistrates’ court for a closure order (unless the notice has been cancelled under section 78).
(2) An application for a closure order must be made—
(a) by a constable, if the closure notice was issued by a police officer;
(b) by the authority that issued the closure notice, if the notice was issued by a local authority.
(3) The application must be heard by the magistrates’ court not later than 48 hours after service of the closure notice.
(4) In calculating when the period of 48 hours ends, Christmas Day is to be disregarded.
(5) The court may make a closure order if it is satisfied—
(a) that a person has engaged, or (if the order is not made) is likely to engage, in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises, or
(b) that the use of the premises has resulted, or (if the order is not made) is likely to result, in serious nuisance to members of the public, or
(c) that there has been, or (if the order is not made) is likely to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises, and that the order is necessary to prevent the behaviour, nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring.
(6) A closure order is an order prohibiting access to the premises for a period specified in the order. The period may not exceed 3 months.
(7) A closure order may prohibit access—
(a) by all persons, or by all persons except those specified, or by all persons except those of a specified description;
(b) at all times, or at all times except those specified;
(c) in all circumstances, or in all circumstances except those specified.
(8) A closure order—
(a) may be made in respect of the whole or any part of the premises;
(b) may include provision about access to a part of the building or structure of which the premises form part.
(9) The court must notify the relevant licensing authority if it makes a closure order in relation to premises in respect of which a premises licence is in force.
Full instructions taken, we headed for court and hopefully the chance to have a proper conversation with the Police before the hearing. We had been advised to be at court for 10 am. When we arrived there was nothing listed and we were told it would be 2 pm. Fortunately the Police station sits next to the court so we went to see if the Police were amenable to having a conversation with us.
Throughout the morning we were able to discuss a number of measures which the operator was happy to incorporate into the management controls at the premises. The Police thought that if those measures could be placed as conditions on the premises licence, then they would be happy for the premises to be allowed to open. In those circumstances, we agreed to submit a minor variation to add those conditions to the licence and the Police issued a cancellation notice under S78, which meant that the court was no longer seized of anything to adjudicate on and there was no need to adjudicate on the closure order.
This was a great example of how an operator and the responsible authorities can work together for a mediated conclusion which everyone is happy with.