Q&A with Jack Cummins
Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN. Do you have a legal question for Jack Cummins?*
Q: If we are residents at a hotel attending a party, are my children allowed to stay at the function until midnight?
A: I would expect that to be possible, but there’s no general rule. It depends on the terms of the hotel’s premises licence. The only way to be sure of the position is to check with the hotel management.
Q: Our local pub has a bar and a lounge and sells meals which can be eaten in either area. We like to use the lounge to go for a drink as it’s quieter and more comfortable but since new management have taken over, they don’t like us being there unless we’re having something to eat and ask us to go in the bar. Do they have the legal right to do this? Surely it’s a lounge bar and not a restaurant?
A: I suppose it’s possible that the lounge – despite being so called – is designated as a restaurant for licensing purposes. It’s more likely that this is simply a management decision. Either way, your choice is to live with the new arrangement or take your custom elsewhere.
Q: I’m planning a family celebration in my pub. No members of the public will attend and alcohol won’t be sold. Since I’m the licence holder, can I assume that the licensed hours don’t apply? I seem to remember that a licence holder is allowed to entertain private friends at his or her own expense without regard to permitted hours.
A: The dispensation for this sort of hospitality disappeared when the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force. The consumption of alcohol outwith licensed hours is an offence, even when there are no sales. If the party is to carry on after your terminal licensed hour, you’ll need to apply for an extension.
Q: Can a pub close earlier than the terminal licensed hour?
A: The short answer is: yes. In 2007, before the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force, the then Scottish Executive issued statutory guidance to licensing boards. It suggested that there was a “duty to trade”: that is to say, licensed premises were obliged to remain open throughout all of their authorised hours. Inevitably, the guidance conceded that there would be circumstances where that was not possible: bereavement, weather conditions, etc. Section 142 of the Act provides that “each licensing board must, in the exercise of their functions… have regard to any guidance”. In addition, where a board decides not to follow guidance, it must give Scottish Ministers notice of the decision with a statement of reasons. However, you will not find a single licensing lawyer who believes there’s a “duty to trade”, nor, for that matter, a licensing board clerk. It’s simply wrong. And, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a single case of a business being sanctioned for trading short of its licensed hours. Nevertheless, the guidance is still in force; and, after 15 years, it’s more than ripe for a radical overhaul.
Q: I’ve been told that I’ll be breaking the law if I drink a beer I’ve taken into the clubhouse at my bowling club even when the bar is closed. Is that really illegal?
A: I can only bring to mind one circumstance where the law would be broken. That’s where alcohol is being consumed outwith licensed hours, whether or not purchased on the premises. Of course, it is open to the management to impose a rule banning the consumption of alcohol brought in by a customer; but, except in the circumstance I’ve described, it’s not illegal.
Q: I missed the deadline for my personal licence refresher training. The licensing board has now told me that the licence has been revoked. According to a colleague in the trade, that means I can’t apply for a replacement licence until five years has elapsed, which seems very harsh. Is that correct?
A: Originally there was a five-year embargo on a fresh application following a revocation; but the law was changed as a result of thousands of licences being lost at the first round of refresher training in 2014. So there’s nothing to stop you forging ahead. If you currently have a training qualification it’s best to check that it remains valid for the purposes of the application.
Q: My pub’s premises manager quit suddenly around seven weeks ago. The local LSO has told me that I haven’t followed the procedure necessary to keep my licence going and I have to stop selling alcohol until I get this sorted. I’m really struggling to find a replacement manager who holds a personal licence. What do I have to do?
A: It appears that you omitted to give the licensing board notice of the manager’s departure within seven days of that occurring and then follow up with a variation application to substitute a new manager within six weeks of the leaving date. You have to stop selling alcohol until this is rectified. As soon as you find a replacement submit a minor variation application to appoint that person as the premises manager and – importantly – request that the variation has immediate effect. When the board has the application you can resume alcohol sales. To avoid a similar drama in the future, I suggest that you put at least one other member of staff through a personal licence course.
Q: My boss tells me he’s planning a “bottomless brunch” promotion at the weekends. I have a feeling there’s a licensing problem that stops this. Can you please advise?
A: There is indeed a problem. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 provides that a promotion is “irresponsible” - and therefore banned - if it “involves the supply of unlimited amounts of alcohol for a fixed charge (including any charge for entry to the premises)”. “All you can eat” is fine – but “all you can drink” would land your boss in the soup.
Q: I applied to the licensing board for permission to add an outside area to my licence. There were a number of objections from local residents and the board members had considerable sympathy with their concerns. As a result, the application was rejected. Is there anything to stop me having a further attempt at this?
A: The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 provides that in the event of a refusal a further application can’t be made before the expiry of one year beginning with the date of the refusal. That obstacle can be overcome if (1) at the time of the refusal the board directed that the one-year ban would not apply; or (2) the board is satisfied that “there has been a material change in circumstances since the earlier refusal”. Demonstrating a “material change in circumstances” could be tricky. It’s difficult to advise how you might make out such a change without knowing more about the background. However, I reckon the key to this probably lies in what the objectors were worried about. For example, a reduction in the size of the external area might be the solution. In any case, you’d be wise to engage with the objectors before trying to progress this and an LSO may be able to assist as an intermediary.
Q: My pub has a lot of elderly customers who are starting to feel the effects of the rising cost of living. I was thinking of introducing a “senior citizens’ savings” scheme which would allow the over 60s a 10% discount on popular products. The scheme would run for several weeks on a trial basis. However, I think similar deals became banned a few years ago. Is there a way to run this proposal and stay legal?
A: When the 2005 Licensing Act came into force it put an end to “pensioners’ afternoons” – the offering of discounts to older customers, typically one afternoon a week – because the Act prohibits price variations lasting less than 72 hours. However, there’s nothing to stop you having two price lists – one for senior citizens and one for other customers – so long as the prices are fixed for at least the mandatory 72 hours. Any changes to either list then become subject to the same constraint.
Q: I operate an outside catering business from an industrial estate unit and hold a licence for the premises permitting off-sales. Normally, I obtain an occasional licence to sell alcohol at customers’ events. I’ve been approached by an art gallery which is holding a private reception. The gallery owner would buy the alcohol from my company and my staff would serve complimentary drinks and food to the attendees. Does this need an occasional licence?
A: It does not, provided there are no alcohol sales to the gallery’s guests at the reception and no other form of payment whatsoever (for example, a drinks-inclusive ticket price). If, as appears, the only sale of alcohol here is by your company to the organiser, that’s covered by your premises licence without the requirement for an occasional licence.
Q: I’m a member of a rugby club and would like to know if we are allowed to let members stand at the bar. We don’t allow standing at the bar in the function room so would that be the same for the members’ lounge? I’ve been told we’re not allowed to let them stand at the bar all night. Is this the case?
A: I can’t detect a licensing issue here unless the ‘no standing’ rule is designed to discourage excessive alcohol consumption. There are some licensing boards that don’t allow children in the bar counter area but l can’t recall ever seeing a licence condition that prevents standing at the bar. I suppose it’s just possible – but unlikely – that the club’s committee has decided to continue the “table service only” rule required during the pandemic.
Q: I’m about to launch a promotion on Sundays offering a complimentary bottle of Prosecco with a main course meal. My licensed hours don’t start until 12.30pm and I’d like to get customers through the door earlier. Can I open at, say, 11am to serve food and non-alcoholic drinks?
A: It depends on the terms of your premises licence operating plan. This sets out the ‘activities’ taking place on your premises and whether they take place outwith as well as within core licensed hours. So, there would require to be wording to the effect that food and non-alcoholic drinks will be provided prior to the commencement of licensed hours. Some licensing boards accept a general statement to that effect, while others will require a starting time to be specified. Absent the appropriate wording, you’ll need to apply for a major variation of the licence. A start time of 12.30pm is unusual, so I suggest you investigate the possibility of applying to vary the licence so that licensed hours start at 11am.
Q: Can I sell a double spirit for £5.30 where a single measure costs £3.30? We wouldn’t be encouraging or advertising it. Would it be deemed an irresponsible promotion?
A: The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 sets out a number of “irresponsible promotions”. These include a promotion involving “the supply free of charge or at a reduced price of one or more extra measures of an alcoholic drink on the purchase of one or more measures of the drink”. When the law was introduced concerns were expressed that this imposed a requirement for “linear pricing” – eg. if a single measure costs £3.30 a double couldn’t be less than £6.60. It’s now well settled that’s not the case. There’s nothing to prevent the sale of the double measure where that’s requested by the customer: they are not being supplied with a larger measure on the purchase of a single. However, a promotion is also “irresponsible” if it “encourages or seeks to encourage a person to buy or consume a larger measure of alcohol than the person had otherwise intended”. So, while there’s no problem with your pricing structure, you’re wise to avoid promoting the cost-saving benefit of the double.
Q: About three years ago I was fined for a minor breach of the peace. I’m now applying for a personal licence. Do I need to declare the conviction?
A: Convictions become ‘spent’ after a certain period depending on the nature of the offence and the sentence imposed. In November 2020, a change to the law cut the “rehabilitation period” from five years to one year when a fine was handed down - but an exception was made for the purposes of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. So, in your case the conviction looks to be still ‘live’. This is extremely complex territory; it’s vital you take expert advice.
Q: I work in a restaurant and hold a personal licence. A few months ago I was handed a £500 fine and banned from driving for a year following a drink driving offence. I’d had a few beers on my way home after a shift. The licensing board has now called a review of the licence. Can I expect my licence to be suspended or revoked? If that happens, I’ll probably lose my job.
A: It’s difficult to make a proper assessment without knowing the full circumstances of the offence - but a number of appeal decisions may be on your side. According to these cases, before imposing a sanction the board must be satisfied “that it is necessary to do so for the purposes of the licensing objectives”. That is not an entirely straightforward exercise. The mere fact that the offence was committed is insufficient – there must be a “relevant connection” with one or more of the objectives. Also, the chief constable is empowered to recommend that the licence be revoked, suspended or endorsed. If no recommendation has been made that’s a definite help. My best advice is: put this in the hands of a solicitor.
Q: I’ve just taken over a pub with a large beer garden. The premises licence contains a condition stipulating that music can’t be played in or relayed to the area. There’s also a cut-off time of 10pm for its use. However, the pub is in a semi-rural area and there are no noise-sensitive properties nearby, so I can’t see that the restriction is necessary. Can these conditions be removed and if so how do I go about it?
A: This needs a major variation application requiring to be heard at a meeting of the licensing board. I suspect the conditions are standard ones and in the circumstances there’s a decent chance they could be taken off the licence.
Q: Last year I launched an online gift hamper business and I’m now hoping to build on its modest success. I’d like to offer a complimentary bottle of wine to customers spending, say, £100. Presumably, I don’t need a licence since the alcohol is supplied free of charge. Am I correct?
A: There really is no such thing as free alcohol in a commercial context. What you’re proposing is a ‘supply’ which is treated as a ‘sale’ in terms of section 3 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, so you do need to obtain a premises licence. Since the sale is ‘remote’ for the purposes of the Act, the licence is required for the premises from which the alcohol is despatched to customers.
Q: The pub down the road had its licence suspended for a month following an alleged breach of Coronavirus regulations but it’s still open for business. How is that possible?
A: There can only be one answer: the licence holder has managed to obtain an ‘interim recall’ of the suspension from a sheriff. That’s a holding operation. In appropriate circumstances, it effectively freezes the suspension until an appeal has been heard and decided. While the suspension (or revocation) of a licence has immediate effect, the law recognises that, without this safety net, there will be cases in which a sanction is overturned following an appeal. In such a situation, a successful appeal would have no value: the damage to the business would already have been done. Broadly speaking, a sheriff will grant interim recall where, on a preliminary assessment, the licence holder has decent arguments that might be successful when the appeal is heard. It’s far from an automatic outcome.