Q: I run a town centre pub and I have heard through the grapevine that there are about to be a number of visits to licensed premises from the responsible authorities. If it is inconvenient to me or at an unsuitable time, can I refuse entry? I was under the impression that it is only the police who could demand entry to licenced premises. Is this not correct?
A: It is possible that you are confusing two separate powers under the Licensing Act. Only the police have a power to enter and search (my emphasis) premises where they have reason to believe that an offence under the Act has been (or is about to be) committed. This power cannot be exercised by officers of the Licensing Authority.
Under a separate provision, the Licensing Act empowers the police or an 'authorised person' to enter (my emphasis again) premises with a view to seeing whether the activity is being, or is to be, carried on under or in accordance with the licence. There is no mention under this provision of carrying out a search of the premises.
The definition of an 'authorised person' includes police officers, licensing officers, environmental health officers, fire inspectors and health and safety officers.
Furthermore, an authorised person in the exercise of their powers may use reasonable force. Whilst I understand that the attendance of an authorised person at your premises might not have been at a convenient time for you and your business, the outright refusal of entry is a dangerous stance to take. It is an offence under the Licensing Act to intentionally obstruct an authorised person exercising a power.
To add a layer of complexity to the issue, this month the Home Office published its Code of Practice relating to Powers of Entry. The Code does not override specific statutory powers to conduct routine inspections or to enter premises for enforcement purposes.
The Code states that where it is appropriate and practicable to do so, reasonable notice (usually not less than 48 hours or as specified in relevant legislation) should be provided to the occupier or landowner of the intention before exercising a power of entry. Where legislation specifically provides that no notice need be given (as is the case under these provisions), authorised persons should nevertheless still consider whether notice could be provided, and where appropriate provide this, where it will not frustrate the purposes of exercising the power of entry.
In light of the new Code of Practice, it is possible, but by no means certain, that you will receive notice of any impending visit by the responsible authorities
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