Licensees should foster positive relationships with LSOs and police, writes licensing lawyer Stephen McGowan
I READ with interest a recent news article concerning a premises which was reportedly ‘raided’ by the police following a visit from a licensing standards officer (LSO) who was said to have reported minor licence breaches.
This perhaps serves as a timely reminder of the powers of both the police and LSOs and how they interact with licensed premises.
If the news article is to be believed, it would have LSOs alerting the police following their visit where they discovered some minor breaches.
I would be surprised if that was correct.
LSOs do have some significant powers at their disposal but, in my experience, these are only employed following a breakdown in communication or persistent non-compliance.
Typically, if there is some minor issue, an LSO would work with the licence holder by having a reasoned and sensible discussion.
Broadly speaking, an LSO has three principal powers under the 2005 Act: to provide information; to ensure compliance; and to mediate where necessary.
If a licence condition has been breached, the LSO is entitled to issue a compliance notice, known as a ‘section 14’ notice, giving the licence holder a period of time to put right whatever the breach may be, so there is an in-built expectation of ‘give and take’.
The Act prevents an LSO from going for an immediate review following a condition breach – they must follow the notice procedure first and give the licence holder time to remedy the breach.
The day to day licensee/LSO relationship may be crucial in the future if the licence is reviewed by some other party, such as the police or a resident.
This is because the LSO will submit a report on his general view of the premises, or in relation to the allegations in a review, and it may make all the difference if they comment favourably on the overall management of the premises.
Licence holders should endeavour to work with LSOs with courtesy and professionalism to foster a positive relationship.
The same logic applies when dealing with Police Scotland.
To a certain extent the new single force is still ‘bedding in’ and there needs to be an acceptance that there is a time factor in adjusting to the new system for the trade and, to be fair, for the police as well.
There is inevitably a period of flux and this may result in certain police actions being carried out in a different way to what the trade is perhaps used to in particular areas.
That being said, I would remind the trade that they should continue to see the police as partners in the licensing system and continue to foster good local relations with licensing and community officers.
The police have been at pains recently to drive home the message that calling them after an incident will not be considered a black mark. If an incident such as an assault occurs on your premises, not calling the police is likely to be the most aggravating factor in their response.
In my view, the approach here should be to consider not the incident itself, but how it was responded to and whether it could have been avoided.
Even the best run premises in Scotland may be subject to a random incident.
The use of police ‘interventions’ is now commonplace across Scotland, although there are still some local variances. Interventions are police meetings where they suggest what actions are required to be taken following a perceived incident and then the licence holder will be invited to sign up to these actions. These can be positive tools that allow a licence holder to deal with an issue if there is one.
However, I would sound a note of caution because it is not always the case that blame should be attributed. A licensee should not simply sign up to an intervention without considering whether the police have got the correct picture.
There may well be examples of some police or LSOs dealing with events or incidents in a way that does not beguile them to the trade.
Ultimately it should be about getting to the truth of the matter in a reasoned and informed manner.
There will be cases when mistakes are made by any party – the trade, police or LSO – because we are all human.
If we recognise this and apply a rational consideration to a perceived difficulty then in most cases there can be a happy outcome.
• Stephen McGowan is a director and head of licensing (Scotland) at TLT.