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Police Powers

The police have powers to close multiple licensed premises to prevent disorder

Operators will be aware of the trouble that happened in France in the first weeks of the Euros. As a result, an alcohol ban was imposed in Lille and Lens from 6pm on Tuesday 14 June until 6am on Friday 17 June. The ban was imposed because of fears of a repeat of the violent scenes that happened in Marseille involving Russian, English and local fans.

Alcohol was not allowed to be sold in off-licences or supermarkets, and drinking in public areas was barred. It was to be served in bars, but all venues were ordered to shut at midnight and drinks were to be sold in plastic containers.

As I was viewing all of the chaos and mayhem (off the pitch, that is) in France unfold, I was put in mind of the powers in England and Wales to prevent crime and disorder at football matches and other large events, and whether the police have the ultimate sanction to close multiple licensed premises to prevent disorder.

The short answer is yes. Under Section 160 of the Licensing Act 2003, local Magistrates are empowered to make an order requiring all premises holding a premises licence or subject to a temporary event notice within a specific area, which is experiencing disorder or where disorder is anticipated, to close until such time as they are satisfied that it is no longer necessary to prevent disorder, up to a maximum of 24 hours.

The application for the order must come from a police officer of the rank of Superintendent or above. A police constable will serve the order on the premises in question and may use necessary force to ensure that the premises are closed.

The burden of proof is on the police on the balance of probabilities to demonstrate that it is necessary and based on the intelligence and/or evidence that they have obtained. They should balance the inevitable loss of business which it will cause against the necessity for the order and if possible should seek a voluntary agreement with operators in the area prior to using this power.

Any manager of the premises or Designated Premises Supervisor; holder of the Premises Licence; and premises user under a temporary event notice will be guilty of an offence if they knowingly allow the premises to remain open when such an order is in force.

These orders should normally be sought where the police anticipate public order problems (sometimes, but not always linked to the availability of alcohol) as a result of intelligence or publicly available information, but may also be used in an emergency.

Events which might justify action under section 160 could include football fixtures with a history of public order problems and demonstrations which are thought likely to be hijacked by extreme or violent groups. In 2008, Devon & Cornwall police used these powers to stop shops and pubs in Torquay selling alcohol in a bid to halt an illegal beach party which had been advertised on Facebook, in which around 10,000 people were expected to attend.

Also in 2008 there was a massive lockdown of pubs and off licences in Rhyl to control 600 Irish football fans heading over for a crunch European match. North Wales Police asked more than 20 Rhyl pubs to shut their doors at 5pm for one hour. Off-licences were also advised to shut for a period before and after the match. Although this was a voluntary measure and no order was imposed, the power in section 160 was there if the Police sought to use it.

Ideally should serious disorder be anticipated it makes sense for licensees to co-operate fully with the police, not least for the protection of their premises and customers. In turn, so far as possible police officers should initially seek voluntary agreement to closure in an area for a particular period of time. The courts should therefore only be involved as a last resort should all other options have been exhausted, and anecdotally at least this seems to be the case.

In my experience operators near football grounds are very receptive to sensible and proportionate police advice, which may explain the relative rarity of the ‘football order’ in general licensing parlance.

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