I have been fortunate enough in the last three months to have been involved in a considerable number of hearings before licensing sub-committees all over England. In the majority of those hearings I have been representing the trade but I have also represented local authorities on appeal and been the legal advisor to a licensing sub-committee on behalf of the local authority. It is clear that there is an ever-increasing understanding of what is required at these hearings, although there are still several examples of things happening during a hearing which should not be permitted.
It is incumbent upon any lawyers present, whether appearing on behalf of an applicant or somebody making representations, or advising the licensing committee, to ensure that the proceedings are dealt with correctly and that reasons given for the decision are full and clear. Licensing sub-committees are often berated for not providing full reasons, but if the submissions made on behalf of the applicant or those making representations are not clear, then the licensing sub-committee can often be in difficulty in giving full reasons.
I know it is difficult for those making representations to concentrate on the four licensing objectives and the potential impact of any application on those, but councillors and legal advisors should try and assist people by pointing out which matters are relevant and which matters are not.
Experience and case law has now led to the majority of licensing sub-committees referring in their reasons to consideration having been given to the Licensing Act 2003, the Section 182 Guidance, their own local authority Statement of Licensing Policy and the evidence before the licensing sub-committee. It is imperative however that we do not just pay lip service to those matters and that we do properly apply the Section 182 Guidance and the Licensing Act 2003 at any hearing before a licensing sub-committee. The same is true of the Licensing Act 2003 (Hearings) Regulations 2005. These should be adhered to at all times, and written evidence should not be allowed to be submitted during the course of the hearing if all parties do not agree to this.
If there are specific parts of the local authority licensing policy that are to be referred to, then attention should be drawn to those during submissions made by applicants or those making representations. I think that there are still too many parties to hearings who do not read local authority policies and who do not consider Section 182 Guidance, instead simply throwing at the licensing sub-committee an argument that it is hoped will work. Local authority policies are different. Some local authority policies refer to specific matters, whereas others do not. If the local authority policy refers to stricter controls being set for licensed premises if they are in a residential area, then the licensing sub-committee should be referred to this.
The same is also true of the way in which licensing sub-committees conduct the procedure at licensing hearings. Whilst there may be a general approach adopted broadly speaking throughout England and Wales, each local authority issues a specific procedure document which sets out how the parties should conduct themselves at hearings and what is permitted during them. The procedure document may, for example, say that the hearing will be discussion-led and that evidence will be given through a ten minute submission on behalf of a party. If that is the case then the sub-committee cannot be expected to take into account other matters which have not been referred to during the submission and it is essential that the relevant evidence relating to the licensing objectives, the Guidance and the Local Authority’s policy is put forward. This will enable the sub-committee fully to understand the arguments and to formulate proper reasons for its decision, which will be beneficial to all.
It still surprises me to come across, on a regular basis, people making submissions which are not relevant, do not pick up on the specific wording of a local authority policy and completely ignore both the Hearings Regulations and the procedures set down by the licensing authority.