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Evidence is the key to success at licensing hearings

We are all by now accustomed to the general protocol at licensing hearings, which are usually discussions led by the Authority without cross-examination being permitted. In the early days of the Licensing Act 2003 there were many amongst us (myself included) who found it difficult to resist the burning temptation to try to cross-examine and challenge those on the other side. This irresistible urge was born out of fifteen years of the hustle and bustle of applications in the Magistrates’ Court with witnesses giving evidence on oath as in a criminal trial. Not only did an attempt to cross examine go against the Licensing Authority’s guidelines but in general it simply irked the councillors and put you on the back foot.

It became clear that those applications which would succeed and those representations which would succeed would be those which were based on evidence and not speculation or argument. Licensing Authorities always have to use a certain degree of speculation in decision-making by having to decide which evidence to prefer, so the obvious answer for those making applications or representations is to provide the licensing committee with all the necessary evidence.

This means reading the local Licensing Policy in detail, applying the relevant parts of the Section 182 Guidance and ensuring that any Operating Schedule submitted with the application deals with all necessary points.

I am still surprised by the standard of certain applications, submissions and cases in general that I witness as I travel around the country representing clients. Obviously these “surprising” cases are not on behalf of clients of Woods Whur! 

Any applicant who turns up to make an application for a new licence without understanding the local Licensing Policy or specific sections of the local policy relevant to the application site does not deserve to be granted a licence. Any applicant who does not understand the local area and put in place measures in the Operating Schedule to deal with any local issues should also not be granted a licence. Preparation, more than ever, is the key to succeeding in licensing applications and, by presenting the licensing committee with as much detailed evidence as possible, an applicant increases their chances of succeeding. There is nothing a local councillor would like better than to explain to an applicant why he or she knows the area much better than they.

The same has to be true in review applications brought against those operating with a premises licence. I have recently been involved in a case in which the police sought to revoke a premises licence or, in the alternative, ask for some fairly severe changes to it (over 21s only, a reduction in hours). The police did not comply with the Section 182 Guidance by notifying the applicant of their concerns and by giving the applicant the opportunity to put matters right before the review application was submitted. This immediately put the police on the back foot. The police did not engage with the applicant and did not want to discuss any proposals other than the complete revocation of the licence. The licensing police did not liaise with the local police force, who are out and about at night in the general area. We were able to obtain evidence from those officers who were patrolling the area at night as to the effectiveness of the management and the high standards of the door team. Quite remarkably, even after this evidence was disclosed to the police, those who were responsible for bringing the review did not change their approach. In addition, the police produced no up-to-date evidence of incidents at the premises, allowing the operator to confirm in evidence that there had been no incidents at the premises, which, although they may have had some teething problems, were now running successfully.

I don’t think I have ever seen a case in which the evidence was so one-sided and I was very surprised that the police continued with the case rather than work with the operator, who would quite happily have agreed some additional voluntary conditions to reflect the way in which the premises were now operating.

This is not a dig at the police as I have witnessed many cases including a high profile case in Westminster in January in which the police brought detailed evidence and presented a very thorough case (the other case I have been referring to is not in Westminster). If anything this article is a dig at those who appear before licensing committees without preparing a case correctly and without submitting evidence to deal with both live matters and local policy. None of this of course ever happens to those who instruct any of us at Woods Whur!