Derbyshire council blocked UPO’s Fish Bar’s licence application by adding a series of restrictions including a ban on it selling beer and cider over 7% abv.
But the conditions, which also included restrictions on the sale of spirits, RTDs and vermouth, have been dropped following a legal challenge.
The victory is the latest salvo in the industry’s fight against the rising number of authorities forcing businesses to remove products from sale based on their alcohol content. Nearly 100 councils have adopted Reducing the Strength schemes, which were pioneered in Ipswich, and Off Licence News has been campaigning for greater clarity over the measure, which lawyers warn is illegal.
Licensing specialist Walaiti Rathore from Fraser Brown, who represented UPO’s Fish Bar, said: “This is the second time in the East Midlands we have dealt with a case where authorities have insisted on a low-abv condition without any justification.
“We are pleased that this licensing sub-committee correctly applied the law and dismissed efforts to introduce measures which could not be justified as they were based on irrelevant matters, pure speculation and without any evidence specific to these premises.”
He added: “The concern is that some authorities are still continuing the practice of wrongly persuading or pressuring applicants and licence holders into accepting a maximum abv condition. This is despite awareness of this practice being raised and criticised nationally at seminars, conferences and a parliamentary inquiry.
“The message to licensees or applicants for a premises licence is that they should not agree to a maximum abv condition without taking legal advice as there may be no justifiable reason for accepting such a condition which could have a detrimental effect on their business.”
The ruling comes as Fuller’s adds its weight to OLN’s campaign backing our request to the European Commission calling for its intervention.
In a letter to the Commission, Fuller’s director Richard Fuller said: “I write to ask you to record our own formal complaint and our support for those lodged with you by Off Licence News and others about collective boycott schemes. These schemes are said to be aimed at street drinkers, but they have very much wider effects.
“Our brewers are regarded amongst the most skilled craftspeople in the industry and our customers happily pay significant but fair prices for our products.
In addition to our own produced beers, we also act as an importer for a range of speciality Belgian beers, all of which exceed 6.5% abv. We are a responsible firm and we absolutely support proportionate, effective measures to reduce alcohol misuse, but we do not support intervention which is not within the law.”
Competition lawyer Martin Rees, who has argued that retailers participating in Reducing the Strength schemes are breaking the law, said: “Producers should not be worried about joining together to make complaints to the authorities here or in Brussels about the anti-competitive high-strength bans. A competition risk could only arise if they discussed support for the bans.”