I think I posted on this last year when most of my evenings on night shift were taken up patrolling the "night time economy" or to put it another way a few irresponsible premises who allowed all and sundry to get hammered before decanting them onto the streets with predictable results.
The licencing act is I've found rather poor in tackling problem bars, and creates a bureaucratic nightmare for us the police with a system that is stacked in favour of the wrongdoer. The act allows conditions to be placed on a licence that can only relate to:
- The prevention of Crime and Disorder
- Public Safety
- Prevention of nuisance
- Prevention of harm to children
So this would cover opening times for the sale and consumption of alcohol, fire exits, use and storage of CCTV, the number of security staff to be on duty, the need for searches, a refusals policy and a host of other things the local licencing committee may see fit before they grant a premises licence. It's rather taken as read that the premises won't allow its patrons to drink to excess and contravene one of the above objectives. This is where the problem begins for us the police.
In the good old days any licensee would be invited into the station for a chat if their premises was causing a problem. If the subsequent warning wasn't heeded then a prosecution would soon follow and objections made when the licence was up for renewal. Now we have to take a "proportionate" approach and highlight deficiencies if there is evidence of poor management and instruct and advise said wrongdoer how to rectify the problem. This must all be evidenced with written documentation which must be able to be presented in court. After this "working together" which often results in an agreed action plan, a review can be called of the premises licence if there are still problems.
Now I've been through this process a couple of times. It involved countless statements from officers who attended fights and dealt with disorderly conduct, incident records, crime reports, and the tracking of individuals found drunk in the street to record which premises had been serving them. It is quite alot of paperwork and takes time to gather it over months when the venue is continuing to be a problem. This is where I differ with the Drinking Banning Order. In collating all the evidence on one particular premises we did not have recidivist troublemakers coming to notice at all, so it would have been a waste of time. The problem is the sale of alcohol to people who are drunk, the bars know it and take the money regardless, washing their hands of the problems on the streets later. You have to link the person causing trouble in the street to the bar to use any evidence against them.
If the local authority agree to a review then it's game on and the matter is brought before the local licencing committee. This consists of councillors who are local residents. Because our evidence is usually overwhelming they will then impose new conditions to prevent crime and disorder and nuisance, usually a reduction in hours which hurts the bar financially. Up to this point a lot of hard work but worth it. This is where the legislation tends to go wrong.
The premises can appeal to the magistrates court if they apply within 28 days and any changes to their conditions are put on hold. So they can carry on just as before until the matter comes to court. Most of the managed bars will go down this route because the loss of revenue is too great for them. With the usual delaying tactics this is often 6 months after the review hearing. Any smart bar will move the previous manager and start to play ball applying with their conditions.
As the case is now in the magistrates court every officer who provided a statement will be required to give evidence. No matter how good your original evidence to bring the review the other side will show how they are now a responsible premise and claim it would be disproportionate to change their conditions now they have "shown" over the subsequent period to be trouble free.
The court case effectively becomes a new review covering the time from the committee decision. It grates with me but that's the way it is. I would often during the 6 month period stand on the door of the one we had up for review and time and time again the door staff would refuse entry to drunks sending them down the road to other bars. We still had trouble in the streets be it from other venues who decanted said same drunks back out at 2am, but to be honest what was the point of going through a pointless charade again.
Maybe if the licencing committee review decision stood pending appeal then they might start complying with their conditions during the action plan stage. I won't be rushing to do another one that's for sure.