Friday, May 27, 2011
I found myself chairing a licensing appeal the other day. It is more than a decade since I last dealt with a licensing matter, and in that time the rules have changed completely. It used to be the case that magistrates dealt with licensing, and most benches elected a specialist panel to do the work. There were one-off applications of one sort or another, single-justice directions to deal with, and regular licensing ('Brewster') Sessions, which saw our local publicans turning up looking unnaturally smart in their jackets and ties, before adjourning to a nearby public house to swap gossip and sink a few pints. Now the function has been delegated to the Local Authority's Licensing Committee (that was supposed to cut down on drunkenness and disorder - the results are now evident). Magistrates act as an appeal court to the Council's decisions, and that's where we found ourselves. Neither I nor my colleagues nor the clerk had ever done one of these, so we all had a bit of reading and learning to do - about 250 pages of law and legal submissions for a start. We couldn't finish the case, and will go back to do so, but two points struck me; firstly that a great deal of money is at stake if we uphold the Council's decision, and secondly that one of the cases we shall have to have regard to is Hope & Glory Public House Ltd v City of Westminster Magistrates' Court. What a splendid title for a case! There are pages and pages of transcript, so I shall know a lot more about licensing in a few weeks than I do now.