Posted on

Are personal licences fit for purpose?

The good old days of the Transfer Sessions at the Magistrates’ Court…12 protection orders, 8 transfers, 2 new grants, a section 20 consent for structural alterations and 3 final orders…then off for a nice fat lunch on Greek Street.

The fitness and propriety test to hold a justices licence…let me see if I can remember? The marvellous 5 minutes of coaching with your client as to who you could not sell alcohol to. Try and get listed 4th or 5th so your client could listen to the same questions over and over again to hone their answers. “Not to serve to children or known prostitutes and police officers in uniform.” You will do….licence granted.

What happened if your client wasn’t proficient in English? Easily sorted (and this happened in Leeds)…if I am smiling at you when I ask you the question the answer is yes…if I am frowning at you then the answer is no. Perfect, licence granted for a new Italian restaurant.

In truth it was all a bit of slapstick but not really a test of the fitness and propriety to hold a licence.

What’s this they say…the Licensing Act. Let us split the licensing system in two and have a premises licence and a portable personal licence. Interesting, and should have been a huge improvement. Notice SHOULD.

It was a golden opportunity but in real terms has not delivered what it could have done.

The system:

Applying for a new licence, if you are 18+, have no relevant convictions and have passed an accredited course then you get a licence. No discretion, the authority has to grant the licence. This then gives you the ability to become a designated premises supervisor and authorise the sale of alcohol.

On the whole this is a system that works well for a properly resourced operator, but issues are increasing with the unscrupulous operator, often in the off trade.

A recent example involved a new premise licence application I have been made aware of for a shop. It was suggested that a personal licence course was taken at the DPS’ house, the exam was passed and the fee was paid. The applicant was told that their personal licence would be sorted out with the Licensing Authority.

It was suggested that the course and exam had been carried out by an accredited trainer from an accredited company. The awarding body has been contacted and they conducted a site visit at the registered office of the training company. They were notified that they had delivered the course because ‘the operator was desperate’. He was then asked if he held any files on attendees for the courses he ran, he said he had none and does not keep them.

The awarding body is now conducting a full investigation and there is a strong likelihood that the organisation will now lose its accreditation.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have come across a situation like this and I have some real concerns about the number of false certificates being issued to allow a personal licence to be granted. I had a very similar example to this when I was representing the London Borough of Newham on a Licensing Act appeal against a revocation. In this case the DPS and Premises Licence Holder had such a poor grasp of English that the Judge found a real inability to promote the Licensing Objectives and we found that the personal licence had been granted after a training certificate had been provided suggesting the DPS had passed the exam in his first language with the aid of a translator. Again, it transpired that the qualification had been fraudulently acquired and the training centre lost its accreditation.

We have just received information about another fraudulent case. During a licence enforcement visit/compliance check at some problem premises it became apparent that the premises licence holder and DPS understood very little English, if any. All conversations were through a relative and when he was asked to explain the conditions on his premises licence and where he got his training from for his personal licence he could not answer. The enforcement officers then telephoned the training provider shown on his certificate and expressed a view regarding his serous lack of English, and his inability to read English and asked in those circumstances how did he complete the course and exam. The answer given was that he had an interpreter present to help him with the course and the examination, which is classed as a ‘reasonable adjustment’.

The awarding body was contacted to ask the question about the use of interpreters during the courses and examinations and they confirmed that this is not allowed and pointed to their codes of practice.

This appears to be happening far too often and the results are only coming to light when problems are exhibited at premises. Maybe we haven’t moved any further on with the Personal Licence regime than the old days of smiling and frowning when asking questions of your lovely Italian chef client, who, by the way is still knocking out fantastic authentic Italian food and a lovely glass of red 20 years later!