Reviews and Apeal processes can be difficult and costly; early intervention is imperative.
We have dealt with a number of cases recently which have caused me to consider just how difficult and indeed costly it can be for operators of licensed premises when things go wrong.
It think it is still fair to say that the majority of reviews of licensed premises are brought by the Police, albeit we are seeing more from local residents particularly in densely populated urban areas such as Central London. Regardless of who brings the review the operation of the premises is immediately under threat. It does not matter whether the operator has got things significantly wrong or not as the available powers of the Licensing Committee on review are sufficient to ensure that the operator must run a “tight ship” during the intervening period between the application being made and subsequently being heard by the Licensing Committee. This necessity together with the associated bad publicity is likely to put considerable financial strain on the business. Following a Police review the operator will typically have to be very careful indeed as to their door policy in making sure that the sorts of people who they allow within their premises are unlikely to cause further trouble. Equally, where residents have brought a review due to issues of nuisance the premises may have to exercise considerably more control over outside areas – or perhaps not use them at all – with the result that the premises become generally less attractive to customers.
In my opinion Licensing Committees have become tougher over the years. This means that it is increasingly more likely that an undesirable outcome will flow from the review hearing which may make the business untenable or at best significantly less profitable.
The operator then has the unenviable choice of taking that on the chin in the short to medium term in the hope that the licence may be relaxed later on or indeed embarking upon an Appeal.
Bearing in mind that most appeals will take between 6-9 months to come to a full hearing the net result will be that the operator has to continue to operate the premises in a highly controlled manner in the interim. Whilst the Magistrates do occasionally find that the Licensing Committee got it completely wrong at the initial review hearing, it is significantly more likely that they will be persuaded to take less draconian action or indeed no action at all following a significant period of trouble free operation of the premises.
During this period of “curtailed operation” the business may not only be suffering in general terms but also having to fund the considerable expense associated with an appeal. The manner in which a case is prepared for and run in the Magistrates’ Court is completely different to that before a Licensing Committee. Very prescriptive directions normally form part of the appeal preparations requiring significant involvement from lawyers in preparing and serving evidence, skeleton arguments and ultimately attempting to negotiate a compromise. From experience, any prospect of compromise is only realistic as the full hearing approaches when a considerable amount of expense has already been incurred. Should a compromise be achieved then it is normally on a “no costs” basis which means that what has already been spent is not recovered. Should the matter go to a full hearing then the expenses increase and even in the event of a victory on appeal the Magistrates are often reluctant to award costs against a publicly funded body or indeed a group of local residents.
All of this means that early intervention is imperative on the part of the Premises Licence Holder. Should a problem surface then it needs to be dealt with swiftly in order to avoid a review in the first place and, more importantly the considerable expense of an appeal thereafter.