Posted: Monday, 17 May 2010 @ 11:52
Back in January I posted a blog about the police tactic of closing pubs immediately for minor or indeed any breach of a condition on the Premises Licence. I stated that the police had no power to force pubs or any premises to close or cease licensable activities of selling alcohol, late night refreshment, or regulated entertainment. Only the magistrates have the power to order that the premises cease licensable activities until a condition is complied with. The police may issue a closure notice, but it does not take effect until endorsed by the magistrates.
It is clear that certain police forces are intent on forcing pubs to close in fear of prosecution if they fail to comply with a police request to close immediately. I have just read in the Morning Advertiser that the police in Lincoln and Nottinghamshire are susing this tactic, and that the power behing the initiative is the Home Office. The law being used is not even in the Licensing Act, but an earlier Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. Peter Coulson, legal editor of the MA, has rightly pointed out that the police have no power to force pubs to close immediately. But it is easy to understand that most pubs will comply for fear that if they refuse they will face prosecution.
It is clear to me that the police are using this tactic to punish pubs. Why else would they close a pub for not keeping CCTV footage for 30 days and not displaying its Premises Licence, or for displaying a photocopy of a Premises Licence rather than the original or certified copy? These are minor issues which could have been addressed without forcing a pub to close. I can understand police tactics if the problem is a serious breach of the Premises Licence conditions, but it is clear that police are acting oppresively and out of proportion by closing pubs for even minor breaches.
The law being used was designed to tackle the situation where alcohol was being sold without a licence. The proper course of action where there is a breach of a Premises Licence condition is to seek a Review of the Premises Licence, or prosecute under the Licensing Act, or both, but the provisions of the earlier Act are so widely drawn that it allows the police to sidestep the Licensing Act itself . Perhaps there would be more co-operation between the trade and the police if the police took it upon themselves to take a more reasonable approach and work with pubs to sort out identified problems rather than subject them to temporary closure and a huge loss of revenue.
I strongly recommend that anyone facing a request for immediate closure should take urgent advice before agreeing. If the breach of condition is minor, it is highly unlikely that the police would prosecute if you refuse to close and sort out the breach as soon as possible.
I wonder whether the police have been watching too much of DCI Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes. Perhaps the police are frustrated sometimes in dealing with the trade, but common sense and proportionate action would go a long way to creating the right atmosphere to solve any problems.
Licensing Law Specialist
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