Licensees face sobering crackdown | 02 February 10

PUB, bar and nightclub operators are facing a sobering crackdown which could hit directors in the pocket – or even land them in prison.

That is the stark warning from licensing experts at law firm Ward Hadaway in the wake of tougher restrictions and penalties being planned by politicians of all parties.

The Labour Government has already pledged to ban ‘irresponsible’ drinks promotions, make bar staff demand proof of age for anyone who looks under 18 and make bars and pubs make smaller measures available.

The Conservatives are planning to give councils powers to charge a levy on licensed premises “causing trouble” late at night and to permanently shut down pubs that repeatedly break licensing rules while the Liberal Democrats have proposed setting a minimum price for alcohol.

Experts at Ward Hadaway say the plans are likely to make life more challenging for all licensees.

Stephen Graham, partner and head of licensing at Ward Hadaway, said: “While most responsible licensees would not object to many of the measures being planned, if you add them up there is no doubt that the regime under which pubs, clubs and bars operate is going to get significantly tougher.

“With this in mind, licensees and companies which run venues would be well advised to ensure their house is in order, to check the terms of their current licenses and make sure they are trading within them.

“The penalties for not complying with licensing conditions and not fulfilling licensing obligations are already pretty severe and are likely to get even tougher over the next few years.”

As well as the possibility of seeing premises closed down – possibly on a permanent basis - failure to comply with licensing conditions could also hit pub, bar and club directors and managers personally.

Stephen Graham explained: “Licences are needed for both the premises licence operator, which is the company which owns the bar or pub, and the designated premises supervisor, which is normally the bar manager or whoever is in day to day control of the venue.

“This means that bar or pub company directors, as well as staff who run the venue, could be prosecuted if they fail to comply with the terms of their licences.

“Prosecutions can lead to fines and, in the most extreme cases, even imprisonment.

“Losing a business would be bad enough, but losing your liberty would be even worse.

“This is just one of a number of very good reasons why operators should make absolutely sure that their licensing matters are in good order – after all, no-one in the pub industry would want to end up behind the wrong kind of bars.”

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