The Licensing Act 2003: The new licensing authority

09 June, 2007

Control of the new licensing system is in the hands of local councils in England and Wales. The Licensing Act 2003 requires them to set up a licensing committee of between 10 and 15 council members (councillors) to whom they delegate their licensing fun

ctions. These will be elected members, so the composition of the committee could well change if there is a swing and certain people lose their seats on the council.

The whole licensing committee meets only rarely. As with the old licensing justices, when they do sit to listen to applications and make decisions it is normally as a committee of three. In practice, much of the work is done by council officers, including the day-to-day handling of applications, advising on procedures and sending out documents. Most councils have either a licensing office or a licensing officer to whom reference may be made on issues concerning the operation of licences. Note that this person is different from the police licensing officer, who also may be a civilian but is not attached to the council and does not personally process applications or deal with enquiries.

Although the major aspects of the new system are set by the Act and the Regulations, each council may operate in a different fashion and may have a different licensing policy.

Procedures

In operating the system of public entertainment licences (PELs) over the past 20 years, councils were able to set their own rules of procedure and licensing conditions. They were also not subject to fixed timescales for dealing with applications, which sometimes meant a delay of several months before applications were granted.

Under the new system, the Regulations require local authorities to comply with certain timescales in dealing with applications and sending out notices. They must also hold hearings, if required, within a strict time limit laid down in the Regulations.

The new time limits are measured in days rather than weeks, and the Regulations define these as “working days”, which excludes weekends. This means that a hearing required “within 20 working days” means effectively four weeks. Similarly “within 10 working days” covers a two week period.

Note that there are not fixed licensing sessions as there are under the previous system. Hearings are held as and when required by the operation of the Act, and it is up to the council to ensure that members of the licensing committee (at least three) are available to adjudicate at the required time.

Hearings are normally held in one or other of the council’s meeting rooms previously used for the hearing of public entertainment licence applications. They are held in public, but the procedure is not laid down in the Regulations and it is for each licensing authority to set its own procedure. However, they must explain the procedure to you prior to the hearing so you know what is going to take place, and they must give equal time to participants and allow them to call witnesses and question other parties. It is important to note that they can only deal with matters which clearly fall within the four named licensing objectives when determining the matter before them.

The regulations require local authorities to give certain minimum periods of notice for these hearings and some of them are necessarily very short (for example, the period prior to a hearing concerning a police objection to a temporary event notice is only two days). There is, therefore, a heavy responsibility placed on council officers to ensure notices are sent out at the correct time.

Procedures

In operating the system of public entertainment licences (PELs) over the past 20 years, councils were able to set their own rules of procedure and licensing conditions. They were also not subject to fixed timescales for dealing with applications, which sometimes meant a delay of several months before applications were granted.

Under the new system, the Regulations require local authorities to comply with certain timescales in dealing with applications and sending out notices. They must also hold hearings, if required, within a strict time limit laid down in the Regulations.

The new time limits are measured in days rather than weeks, and the Regulations define these as “working days”, which excludes weekends. This means that a hearing required “within 20 working days” means effectively four weeks. Similarly “within 10 working days” covers a two week period.

Note that there are not fixed licensing sessions as there are under the previous system. Hearings are held as and when required by the operation of the Act, and it is up to the council to ensure that members of the licensing committee (at least three) are available to adjudicate at the required time.

Hearings are normally held in one or other of the council’s meeting rooms previously used for the hearing of public entertainment licence applications. They are held in public, but the procedure is not laid down in the Regulations and it is for each licensing authority to set its own procedure. However, they must explain the procedure to you prior to the hearing so you know what is going to take place, and they must give equal time to participants and allow them to call witnesses and question other parties. It is important to note that they can only deal with matters which clearly fall within the four named licensing objectives when determining the matter before them.

The regulations require local authorities to give certain minimum periods of notice for these hearings and some of them are necessarily very short (for example, the period prior to a hearing concerning a police objection to a temporary event notice is only two days). There is, therefore, a heavy responsibility placed on council officers to ensure notices are sent out at the correct time.




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