PLH history must not be repeated

Huge backlog of applications seen in 2009 must be avoided

Scottish parliament
The Scottish Government must act to avoid similar problems to 2009

PERSONAL licence renewals will place an unwelcome burden on the trade – and could place an impossible strain on licensing boards’ resources.

My question is: are they still necessary?

When the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force there was a clear case for ensuring that personal licence holders were subject to periodic scrutiny, particularly since boards had very limited supervisory powers.

Prior to amendments introduced by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010,  a board could only initiate a review in two situations.

Firstly, notification that a personal licence holder has been convicted of a ‘relevant offence’ or a ‘foreign offence’ automatically triggers a hearing. Secondly, if a board makes a finding in the course of a premises licence review that a personal licence holder had “acted in a manner which was inconsistent with any of the licensing objectives”, a hearing also becomes mandatory.

Now, the chief constable and a licensing standards officer may at any time report conduct inconsistent with the objectives.

The ‘fit and proper test’ is also in play.

With those robust safeguards in place, I reckon we should follow the position in England and Wales where, back in April 2015, the personal licence renewal requirement was scrapped  – even though the system south of the border doesn’t provide for refresher training.

There may well be a quibble that, over time, the photograph of the licence holder may have ceased to be a true likeness. But a colleague with a substantial licensing practice in England tells me that this would simply be addressed by a police officer asking for a second form of photo identification, such as a driving licence.

As matters stand, the consensus of expert opinion is that after ten years personal licences must be renewed and “refreshed”.

If that duplication isn’t fixed, holders of a personal licence that came into force on September 1, 2009 will require to: submit a personal licence renewal application supported by a licensing qualification no later than May 31, 2019; complete refresher training against a deadline of August 31, 2019; and provide the licensing board with evidence of that training no later than November 30, 2019.

It’s just asking too much, it’s pointless – and any slip up will be fatal.

Where the renewal deadline isn’t met, the licence will cease to have effect; and a failure to comply with the refresher requirements inevitably leads to the licence being revoked. There’s also a huge administrative exercise for licensing boards.

The Scottish Government is presently engaging with stakeholders with a view to finding an optimum solution – and it’s possible that an overhaul of the legislation will cut a swathe through this mess.

That would still leave a really big concern.

Let’s say you hold a late-hours catering licence granted under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Provided that a renewal application is submitted no later than the expiry date, the licence continues in force until the application has been determined.

But, in relation to personal licences, there’s no safety net. The first round of renewals will result in upwards of 30,000 applications landing with licensing boards. That number is a very conservative estimate: the true figure would easily be far north of 40,000.

If there’s a late rush in the run up to the May 31 cut off, there’s a real possibility that boards’ resources will be stretched beyond breaking point, leaving applications still to be granted on September 1.

As you’d gather, in those cases the licence will simply cease to have effect.

We need to take a lesson from history here.

Emergency measures had to be put in place when it became clear that the Licensing (Scotland) Act was about to kick off on September 1, 2009 with a huge backlog of personal licence applications.

It’s time to make sure we don’t face the same drama next year.

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Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.

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Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.