Rory Clarke and Josef Cannon consider the implications of the recently proposed changes to the Summary Review procedure in the Licensing Act 2003.
Reforms to the Summary Review procedure in the Licensing Act 2003 promise to put an end to the controversy of what happens to a premises licence between the review decision being made and an appeal. The debate has raged ever since a district judge declared the existing legislation "incapable of understanding by any human being". The courts have wrestled with the issue (see here and here and here) without ever managing to resolve the argument.
The Summary Review procedure in sections 53A to C of the Licensing Act 2003 is a mainstay of dealing with serious problems at licensed premises. A key part of this is the power to take quick measures, within 48 hours, to "hold the fort", until a full review can be carried out. Very often these interim steps involve suspending the licence or drastically cutting its hours. But there has been controversy over what happens between the review and an appeal – do the interim steps fall away, or do they stay in place? Premises have long argued that keeping the interim steps in place is unfair, as it prevents premises from trading out of their problems, and provides a strong disincentive to appeal. Alternatively, if the interim steps fall away, then even the worst premises can continue trading for months while an appeal is pending.
The proposal would scrap the most criticised section (s.53C(2)(c)), and replace it with a reconsideration of the interim steps at the hearing of the review. The revised interim steps then continue until the review decision takes effect – 21 days later, or if there is an appeal, when the appeal is concluded. It also introduces for the first time a right of appeal against the interim steps decision.
The benefits of this approach are that the position pending an appeal will be decided on better information, and hopefully it will end the uncertainty created by badly-drafted legislation. Licence holders also have the reassurance that the licensing authority's decision on the steps pending appeal is itself subject to appeal.
Any change brings new questions. Will the magistrates' courts be able to cope with completing an appeal within 28 days? What happens if court time cannot be found? And perhaps most tellingly, how will an interim steps appeal avoid becoming a rehearsal of the main appeal? Licensing lawyers will watch the progress of this change with interest.
Other changes in Part 7 of the Policing and Crime Bill include limiting the right to make representations against interim steps to one opportunity unless there has been a material change of circumstances, redefining alcohol to include dried and powdered alcohol; introducing a power for licensing authorities to revoke personal licences for relevant offences; and additions to the list of relevant offences that must be reported.