UK Licensing Laws And Their Origins

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UK-Licensing-Laws-And-Their-OriginsEmma Clements of London solicitors Wiseman Lee gives some insight in to UK licensing laws, how they came about, how they are enforced and why a 266-year-old etching is of significance

Gin, cursed fiend, with fury fraught, makes human race a prey. It enters by a deadly draught and steals our life away.” (Rev James Townley, 1714–1778).

Imagine a world where six times more gin than beer is produced and of the 15,000 drinking establishments in the city more than half are gin houses. Gin is much more accessible than clean water, and there is an epidemic of drunkenness and associated antisocial behaviour. For those of us that enjoy the occasional G&T, it seems inconceivable, but this happened in London 300 years ago. It led William Hogarth to produce Gin Lane, an etching made in 1751 and one of the most powerful pieces of visual polemic ever seen. The government of the day was forced to act. The Gin Act of 1751 required gin producers to sell only to licensed premises.

Jump to the present day and one of London’s biggest and best-known nightclubs, Fabric, reopened its doors recently after it was stripped of its licence following the drug-related deaths of two young clubbers. The doors were closed until an appeal was granted and a long list of strict licensing conditions were agreed with Islington Council. Another nightclub in California suffered a fire, which led to the death of at least 36 party goers. There was a question mark over whether the building complied with safety conditions.

What links these terrible events is the importance of compliance with current licensing laws, which although often onerous for licensees, offer a measure of protection to the public that is a mark of a civilised society. There is a statutory framework in place which sets out the licensing objectives. These are the key factors that a licensing authority must keep in mind when deciding whether to grant a licence. The objectives of preventing crime and disorder and public nuisance are of equal importance as those of public safety and protecting children from harm. Interestingly, and despite the 1751 Act, the promotion of public health is not now a licensing objective, though the Scottish Parliament has been considering legislation to curb the effects of cheap alcohol on health.

Licensable activities can cover a number of areas, such as the retail sale of alcohol and the provision of regulated entertainment. A public house would always need a premises licence. However, if the pub wanted to host a wedding and this was not included in the terms of their original licence, a temporary event notice would also be needed. In addition, premises which are licensed to sell alcohol must also have a designated premises supervisor who is authorised to sell alcohol with a personal licence. This does not mean that each and every bar person must have a licence though as the personal licence holder gives them the authorisation for them to sell to the public. A lot to consider, one may think, for a quick pint!

This article was originally published in The Wanstead Village Directory March 2017.

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