Enforcement activity against pubs has soared in the past year as licensing authorities come to terms with the revised alcohol licensing laws, experts revealed last night.
Speaking at a seminar, Craig Baylis, partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner, said half of the firm's current licensing work was now to do with enforcement activity, mainly licence reviews.
He said that, while there had been few prosecutions under the Licensing Act 2003 to date, councils, the police and other responsible authorities were turning increasingly to reviews as a cost effective way of policing pubs and bars.
"There's now much more enforcement activity going on than we've seen in the past five years," said Baylis.
Under the Act, residents or "responsible bodies", such as the police, can lodge a complaint, without substantive evidence, against individual pubs and bars, which then triggers a 28-day consultation period and subsequent hearing at the council's offices.
The measure is popular as it is inexpensive and avoids court costs for the council and those seeking a review, but not so for licence holders who often seek legal representation.
Typically conditions are then agreed and put on the operator's premises licence, although Baylis warned that there had been a marked increase in erroneous conditions not directly relating to the Act's licensing objectives, with the police particularly guilty of pushing for often unenforceable restrictions.
Official Government figures out today show that in the year to 31 March there were more than 1,000 reviews with 160 licences revoked; 170 suspended; 160 premises forced to change their trading hours; and 620 premises that had conditions placed on their licences.
By Chris Druce
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