Posted: Monday, 14 December 2009 @ 11:25
There is nothing like a looming election to concentrate the mind of government. Those issues which have been festering in a dark corner of their cupboard suddenly are dragged out to be sorted. Never mind that they have been waiting for 7 years, it is now all hands to the deck to make the Licensing Act 2003 fit for purpose.
In my last blog I mentioned the sudden surge to allow electronic service of most licensing applications. This should have been possible from the very start, but the EU have forced the government to do it by 28 December, so it has been a last minute surge which will probably be a nightmare for the Licensing Authorities who have to implement the changes. The necessary legislation was only passed on 3 December, and yes it will come into force on 28 December. But I suspect that many if not all Licensing Authorities will not be ready. You can't blame them. Who would miss their Christmas Lunch for a government who have taken 7 years to sort it and give just a few months to those who have to make it work?
The good news as far as electronic applications are concerened is that they will cut the cost of serving an application. Firstly the electronic service will be on the Licensing Authority only, and they in turn then have to serve the other authorities such as the police and fire brigade. Secondly the plan to accompany any application can be served electronically. To avoid the problem of image size, the regulations on plans have been amended so that there is no prescribed scale any more. The plans must merely be "clear and legible in all material respects". They must still contain all the necessary information, but it will now be possible to use smaller scale plans, or buliding plans, and scan them to a suitable size for electronic service. Oh, and this relaxation on plans will also apply to paper applications.
I know that there will be teething problems with the new electronic process, and it might be wise to avoid it for the first few months unless in an emergency. It will be especially good for service of Temporary Event Notices which are quite simple to deal with.
So what else is the government addressing in "johnny come lately style"? Well, they have just issued a new consultation (responses by 9 February 2010) to address issues we have been complaining about for many years. Firstly they are proposing to allow 28 days rather than 7 days for the issue of an Interim Authority Notice after death or bankruptcy. Remember the Wesh pub which had to go dry for 2 months whilst they got a new Premises Licence because the grieving widow of the Licensee did not (understandably) get in the notice within 7 days of her husband's death? I and others said back in 2002 that this was bonkers and should be changed, but I suppose better late than never.
And the government have had a look at Temporary Event Notices, and propose thet the Police should have 2 working days rather than 48 hours in which to object, and (hooray!) have proposed that even late Temporary Event Notices (less than 10 working days before the event) could still be allowed if the Police give permission.
Before I close on this blog I will just mention the changes made by the Policing and Crime Act 2009 of November. This will allow members of Licensing Authorities to object to applications and initiate a review of a Licence, will give power to the government to impose new manadatory conditions on Premises Licences and Club Registration Certificates, will make it an offence to sell alcohol to children on 2 occasions (currently 3 occasions) within 3 consecutive months (in addition to other offences), and will introduce a whole new regime for Sexual Entertainment Venues. These changes are likely to come into effect in April 2010, and I will keep you updated with blogs over the next few months.
Licensing Law Specialist
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