Nigel Booth is a barrister with knowledge and experience of licence review hearings.
In 2016 some local residents approached Nigel to ask for his help with a premises licence review that they were preparing.
Nigel had been a barrister for more than twenty years with a background in criminal law, which was a good thing because guarding against crime, disorder and nuisance is a big part of licensing. Never being afraid to demand fairness and fair procedures was important when ensuring that the residents got a fair deal when it came to the hearing. This is how the Licence Review Handbook began.
You have probably done some online research into licence reviews, just like we did. There’s plenty of help for the licensing industry from membership of licensing associations. But there’s not so much for residents and objectors except for some general sheets from council websites across the country explaining the basics of the procedure. Have you checked out lawyers who advertise themselves as licensing specialists? They’d want a fee to help you. Have you struggled to find somewhere that offers practical help about how to go about preparing your review application, and how to gather reliable evidence, in the best way that brings the best chance of success?
The aim of this Handbook is to rebalance the odds. All the experience and everything that Nigel’s residents’ group learned, together with twenty-odd years’ worth of lawyering, have gone into this Handbook. Its intended to be your One Stop Shop, guiding you through the process from beginning to end. Get a headstart with the Licence Review Handbook!
Did you know?
- Anyone who is affected by the operation of a premises licence can challenge it at a council hearing. It’s possible to do this by yourself or to group with other affected people and make a challenge together;
- It does not cost anything for a resident or other affected person to challenge a premises licence, and if you lose you can’t be ordered to pay any costs. The council procedure is cost-free from beginning to end;
- The procedure for challenging a premises licence by way of a review is an informal one presided over by a sub-committee of councillors from the council’s main licensing committee. You are a voter. You are more important to them than you might think you are;
- You don’t need to have a lawyer represent you. You can plan for the hearing and conduct it yourself, or you can ask a friend to present it for you. And if you plan well, your chances of success increase dramatically.
Maybe you’re thinking that you could do with some help to steer you in the right direction? That you don’t want to let a good point in your favour go unnoticed? What if there are little quirks in procedure that you don’t want to fall foul of? This Handbook will arm you with know-how. Make sure that you know how to –
- Gather the best evidence of the licensing objectives being breached;
- Prepare your written application to review the licence, and get it right first time;
- Marshall the views of any other affected neighbours or visitors to the area;
- Present the best case possible to the licensing committee;
- Deal with ‘the other side’ appropriately, both before and during your licence review hearing;
- Deploy fundamental principles of fairness so that no-one sneaks anything past you;
- Avoid missing time limits: there are deadlines in play, and if you miss them the Council might just dump your views and objections straight in the bin.
Know about all these things in advance so that nothing catches you by surprise. Target your energies and your time on tasks that will count.
Some surprising fundamentals
You might think that if you have experienced a significant problem with the running of licensed premises, then the proper thing is to report it to the licensing department of your council and expect them to deal with it – right?
Well, mostly wrong, actually. It may sound like perfect common sense, but it’s not how things work. Once a council has granted someone a premises licence, the council will pretty much adopt a hands-off approach. It will tend to assume that everything is satisfactory unless and until someone says otherwise. In an age of austerity-driven budget cuts, thinly-staffed councils won’t go voluntarily checking the premises just to see that they’re operating as they should be. If you have a problem with nearby licensed premises, sending the council an e-mail or a letter explaining the problem will probably result in a reply “thanks, but you will need to submit a review application if you want us to consider what you say”.
The exception may be noise nuisance, which a Council is obliged to investigate under the Environmental Health Act if you lodge a complaint, though this is a separate thing from licensing procedures completely and doesn’t mean that you will have any input on whether the licence is revoked or altered. The way that you ask the council to do something about the problems and about the licence is by submitting your experiences and your evidence in an application to review the premises licence. Knowing how to prepare and how to present your best case are key. That’s what this Handbook is all about.
What counts as “evidence”? How do you gather evidence that supports you?
Imagine that you are before the licensing committee and you are telling them about the problems that you have been suffering. Are you thinking to yourself, what’s the use in that because you have no evidence of what you say? WHOA! Stop right there. That is a common misconception. Too many people give up because they wrongly think that they have no evidence.
Think of it this way: the very fact that you are talking about what you have experienced is evidence. This is a very important point. Never underestimate the power of talking about your own experiences. Gather other evidence, too, where it can be found. Always remember that your story (or your stories, if there is a group of you) is an essential part of describing the problems that exist.
And here is the second important point to be made: with just a little preparation, you can make sure that you present your strongest case possible. One significant way to strengthen your hand is by keeping a contemporaneous log of your experiences. How much stronger your evidence will be if you can produce a log that was created over a period of time, and which highlights almost in diary form the specific dates and times of each specific experience, detailing each time how the experience affected you, how it made you feel.
This Handbook will help you identify and present your evidence in the most effective way. That’s the main goal. Along the way we’ll look at some practical points that arose during the review hearing that I led for local residents in my village, often where we made mistakes and how you can avoid making those mistakes. We’ll consider those practical points under the heading Our Experience from time to time.
The Licence Review Handbook is published by Nigel Booth under the Legal Lifebelt umbrella. Click the link to see Nigel’s other books and more details about the Legal Lifebelt data policy.