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The House of Lords’ verdict on the Licensing Act 2003

The House of Lords' long awaited report on the Licensing Act 2003 has been published. Having taken evidence from participants representing varied interests, their conclusions make hard reading for Licensing Authorities.

What does the report say?

Chair of the Committee, Baroness McIntosh, said she had been “shocked by some of the evidence received on hearings before Licensing Committees”.

In a strongly worded report, peers said that evidence of ineptitude in the system “was damning”.

What does this mean?

Most Licensing Authorities try their very best to apply the Licensing Act correctly, but the squeeze on council budgets is making this more challenging.

Little was said in the report about what we consider to be a major issue here and that is the apparent lack of training given to Responsible Authorities – not just local authorities but also police officers.

Often individuals are thrown in at the deep end and haven’t got support.  Their decisions, however, can have massive impact and if made improperly, have consequences.

The House of Lords’ analysis is helpful but their conclusion is that licensing should be merged with planning.

What would be the issues with this? 

It has been acknowledged that resourcing in local authorities is a significant concern and the idea has been mooted that the planning process could be outsourced in order to lift some of the pressure on Planning Authorities.

Handing licensing over to them, when they’re already suffering strain, seems not to be the most sensible approach. The result could be that both planning and licensing hit the buffers.

What are the alternatives?

Is it time to consider returning licensing to the Magistrates’ Court?  As someone who spent the first part of his career working with Licensing Justices, their stewardship was preferable.  As Local Authorities struggle with budgetary constraints I see no light at the end of the tunnel.

The Licensing Act 2003 is undoubtedly fit for purpose but it has to be treated with respect by everyone involved otherwise it can, and does, unravel and that’s to no-one’s long term advantage.

Having identified, and acknowledged, the current inadequacies in the system, it would seem sensible to engage in a constructive discussion about what we can do to fix them.

Richard Arnot

Partner, Licensing

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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