Now that the festive period is over, many of you will be thinking of ways of maximising your profits during the next year. This may involve submitting a licence application with the associated risk that no matter how much you try to avoid going before a Licensing Committee, you may have some form of “hiccup” which leads to a contested hearing.
Whilst we always advise using a specialist licensing lawyer at such hearings it is true that many operators, often for costs reasons, represent themselves. If you are one of these I trust your experience was a good one, but often we are requested to appeal decisions that are operationally impossible to comply with or otherwise unreasonable. The costs of appealing to the Magistrates' Court are of course substantially higher than being represented at the local council.
Nevertheless, if you are 'taking the law into your own hands' here are a few tips which may help you focus and increase the chances of obtaining a satisfactory decision before a Committee:
- First and foremost, try your best to avoid the necessity for a hearing, by negotiating with all the objectors. Take care not to coerce objectors but, whether or not they are the relevant authorities or residents, they will need to confirm any withdrawal in writing to the Licensing Authority in advance of the hearing.
- Carefully read the Committee agenda, which often can be obtained either from the Council’s website or, alternatively, by contacting the Licensing Department in advance of the hearing.
- Consider and be familiar with the relevant parts of the local Council's policy, the Home Office Guidance issued under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 and the Licensing Act 2003 itself.
- You must comply with the (Hearing) Regulations 2005 which stipulate timelines for the submission of documents in support of your application, and the requirement to notify the Council of what witnesses will be called on your behalf and, also, the issues they intend to address.
- Consider each representation, and how each point raised relates to the 4 licensing objectives. You should then attempt to address each of the objections individually, providing documentary evidence, or calling live witnesses in support if possible.
- Ensure that you have the right hearing date and time, and that you and your witnesses attend the right venue in plenty of time. This will allow you time to make any final adjustments or to have further discussions with the objectors, Licensing Officers and the legal officer, if necessary.
- Be aware of any time limits on the length of time your presentation should take. Some Councils will only allow you up to 10 minutes to make your application!
- Take detailed notes of the hearing and, in particular, what is said by the objectors, any points raised by the legal advisor and the final decision of the Licensing Committee.
Notwithstanding the above, we would always recommend that you have legal representation. A solicitor will be able to negotiate on your behalf and, if that fails, guide you through the notoriously choppy waters of a licensing hearing. Furthermore, your solicitor will be able to identify any points which, if necessary, could potentially lead to a successful appeal.