By Gillian McKenzie
Councillor Malcolm Cunning said he is “increasingly frustrated” with “sweeping criticisms” that boards are failing to act in ways he said are beyond their legal competence. Such a suggestion, he said, displayed an “apparent, even wilful, ignorance” of the licensing regime and the legal powers of boards.
Councillor Cunning’s comments came after chief superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said the chief constable should be given greater powers when it comes to licensing if boards are “unable to make the tough decisions”. He said boards need to be “more deeply aware” of the wider harm associated with alcohol misuse when making licensing decisions and put it at the “forefront of their decision making about overprovision”.
“Better choices must be made around alcohol, its strength, its availability and licensing,” said O’Connor.
“Licensing boards issue licences to sell alcohol. Perhaps it is time to ask if they have all the facts they need and if they are able to make the tough decisions to keep people safe.
“If licensing boards are unable to make the tough decisions about licensing of alcohol, perhaps it is time to pass such decisions to the chief constable in order to keep people safe.”
But councillor Cunning hit back at the suggestion.
In a letter to chief superintendent O’Connor, he said: “I have to say that your comments display an apparent, even wilful, ignorance of the licensing regime and the legal powers of licensing boards which I would not expect from any senior officer in Police Scotland.
“I would also have expected you to be more than aware of recent decisions in sheriff courts and the Court of Session which have overturned decisions by several boards where they have made determinations which you might describe as ‘tough’ but the courts have seen either as mistaken or disproportionate.”
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson said it underlines the importance of the recently-formed National Licensing Advisory Committee to feature representatives from all sectors, including licensing boards, police, the trade and health groups.
“I think there is a lack of understanding amongst some agencies in terms of what others can and can’t do,” he said.
“There have been situations where board decisions are overturned by the courts and then they are less likely to take major players to task and we have this two-tier system emerging.
“There are a lot of parts that come in to play. It shows we need a body to bring us all together so we can get some consistency and understanding.”