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Sex Establishment Venue Conditions Challenge Fails

Secrets v London Borough of Camden

In what is thought to be the first challenge of its kind, an appeal by a sexual entertainment venue operator to a raft of standard conditions imposed by a licensing authority has failed.

Secrets have run table dancing venues in Euston, Holborn, Swiss Cottage and Covent Garden for many years, without regulatory problems. Upon adoption by the London Borough of Camden of the sexual entertainment venue provisions in the Policing and Crime Act, Secrets applied for SEV licences for each of their venues. They argued that various standard conditions should be varied or excluded in their case. These included:
conditions prevented visibility into the premises. Secrets argued that it was sufficient for passers-by not to see the performance;

  • conditions preventing distribution of literature. Secrets wished to be able to distribute literature in the street, but were given only a limited permission to distribute literature on private premises with the owners' consent;
  • conditions regulating the performance, including the ability of the performer to apply their fingers, lips and tongues to private parts of their body. Secrets argued that conditions preventing masturbation were sufficient.
  • The essence of their argument was that none of these matters had ever caused contention before and so could safely be permitted.

The standard conditions were contained in Camden's sex establishment licensing policy, which had been the subject of a two-stage consultation process.

In a detailed judgment, District Judge McPhee reminded himself that this was a statutory process adopted by the local authority which involved a significant local consultation process leading to the adoption of the policy and the standard conditions, against which there had been no legal challenge. He also stated that the decision of the sub-committee is the exercise of a power delegated by the people as a whole to decide what the public interest requires. He found that there was good reason for all of the conditions challenged and could not find the decisions to have been wrong.

He therefore dismissed the appeals and awarded costs of £22,000 to the Council.

Philip Kolvin QC, instructed by Sandra Ballentine, acted for the London Borough of Camden.