Published: 30 April 2014 by Lisa Sharkey
Readers of our previous eNews (available here) will know that Platinum Lounge, a lapdancing bar in Chester, had applied to the High Court for Judicial Review of Chester Council’s refusal to renew its 2013 application for a sexual entertainment licence (‘SEV’). Following an earlier interim decision to allow the bar to re-open the High Court has now given its judgment after a full hearing.
On 30 April 2014 Mr Justice Stuart-Smith quashed the Council’s refusal to renew the licence.
The main ground of challenge by Platinum Lounge was that Chester Council had acted contrary to its own Constitution, which required:
1. That a Panel of three Councillors from its Licensing Committee determine applications for renewals of SEVs, and
2. That the composition of that Panel of three was made on a ‘politically proportionate basis’ in line with the composition of the Council.
In fact, Platinum Lounge’s 2013 application to renew was heard by a Panel of twelve Councillors, seven of whom were Labour and five Conservatives. At the time however there were actually more Conservatives than Labour members of the Council as a whole.
The Judge acknowledged that whilst there was a ‘superficial attraction’ in the Council’s submission that having the decision taken by more than three members was an advantage, this did not alter the fact that it should have been taken by a Panel of three. Moreover, there was no certainty how a Panel of three properly politically constituted members would have voted – it could not be said that such a Panel would have reached the same result as the twelve who in fact made the decision. He concluded ‘for these reasons…the Decision of the 17 September 2013 must be set aside because it was taken by a group of people who had no power to take it’.
Platinum Lounge’s 2013 application for renewal of its SEV will now have to be heard by a properly constituted Panel. The ‘constitution’ point was the lapdancing bar’s main ground of challenge but the Judge dismissed the other grounds, which alleged that the Council had failed to give due weight or adequate reasons for departing from its 2012 decision to grant the SEV. In particular, the 2013 Committee’s decision to give greater prominence to the presence of residential accommodation in the area than had their 2012 colleagues, and their conclusion that the location of Platinum Lounge in that area had an impact on the character of the locality, were both sufficient reasons to refuse to renew the SEV. The Decision Letter ‘grasped the nettle’ of the previous (2012) Decision and gave its reasons for reaching the different conclusion that it did. The 2013 Committee was entitled to have a ‘second look’ and it did not matter whether there had been a change of circumstances since the 2012 renewal decision – what mattered was that the 2013 Committee had given reasons for making a different decision. Whilst the Decision Letter could have been fuller and more clearly expressed, the Judge stated that it was ‘positively unhelpful to engage in minute textual analysis when the overall meaning is clear’.
Richard Clayton QC and Sarah Clover were instructed by Poppleston Allen on behalf of Platinum Lounge. Chester West and Chester Borough Council were represented by James Rankin.
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