The current state of licensing reviews and appeals for hospitality operators in London has been likened to a "mad hatter's tea party".
Speaking at a Poppleston Allen seminar on licensing in London this week, James Rankin, barrister at Francis Taylor Building, complained that local council licensing boards were "coming to conclusions that defied the evidence".
"It is a mad hatter's tea party with many areas of concern," he said. "When you go for hearings for applications of review, the result is rarely the result that was expected."
Rankin singled out Westminster Council for its stringent enforcement of licensing laws, including one restaurant that was fined £10,000 for its first offence of selling one bottle of beer outside of its hours.
"Licensing board members are not like magistrates who see it as a civil duty, they are council members who are reliant on the votes of individuals and their opinion is highly favoured towards the resident," he said.
James Anderson, partner at Poppleston Allen, said operators must not let local authorities bully them. "Westminster has looked to crack down on drinking in public, so much so that you would think it was unlawful," he said. "Remember that it is absolutely fine to do so."
In January, Soho-based bar Fudge became only the third bar in Westminster, after Movida in Argyll Street and Zebrano in Ganton Street, to be granted extensions to its opening hours on appeal.
By Christopher Walton
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