Memorandum submitted by The Magistrates Association




The Magistrates' Association has a membership of some 28,000 representing the vast majority of sitting magistrates throughout England and Wales.


Under the 2003 Licensing Act, local authorities became responsible for all alcohol and entertainment licences, along with licences for the sale of hot food after 2300 hours.


However, the Magistrates' Courts remain as the appeal court for all those who disagree with decisions made by local council licensing committees.


Magistrates' Courts have powers to grant closure notices for licensed premises at the request of a senior police officer.


Magistrates' Courts also have responsibilities for dealing with holders of Personal Licences who commit any one of a range of offences.


Magistrates' Courts also deal with those who commit offences under the Act and see, on a day to day basis, the consequences of over-indulgence in alcohol, whether it results in stranger on stranger violence, domestic abuse or drink driving.


Our specific concerns


Although the Act itself has provided little work for the courts, there are some issues that the Association would like to bring to the attention of the Committee. (There were some 569 appeals between April 2006 and March 2007 Source:


Costs of Appeals


The new drive within government towards full cost recovery has increased the cost of appeals under the Act. At present, individuals appealing a decision of a licensing authority pay a protected lower fee rate. The Association believes that this is an important right that should be enshrined in law.


Joining of residents to appeals by licence holders


At present, there is no statute power to allow local residents who have campaigned against either the granting of a new licence, the extension of an existing licence or indeed for a review of a licence to be heard on appeal if the licensing authority refuses or alters all or part of the licence request at first instance. On appeal, the licensing authority is not required to present the views of residents, although it may do so if it wishes. The Association is aware that various courts have taken different views about whether or not to allow residents to present their views at appeal hearings where an applicant has appealed. The statute, at Schedule 5, does not deal with this issue.


The Association believes that, in the interests of fairness, it should be made clear by parliament whether anyone raising an objection at first instance may be heard on appeal in addition to the licensing authority where the authority has turned down the licence request, whether on these grounds or on other grounds. This would bring licensing appeals more in line with planning appeals. However, as the former are judicial in nature and the latter administrative, there might be a need for legislation.


National Register of Personal Licence Holders


Premises selling alcohol must normally be under the direction of a designated premises supervisor, who must be an accredited Personal Licence Holder. These licences are valid for ten years and are issued by the authority where the person is living at the time they wish to apply for a licence. Although each authority holds its own register, there is no central register. The absence of such a central database makes it impossible for the police to check whether anyone arrested for an offence listed in Schedule 4 of the Act is in fact a personal licence holder without checking with every local licensing authority. As one of the four licensing objectives is 'the prevention of children from harm', the creation of a national register would further this particular licensing objective.


Only 11 personal licences were revoked between April 2006 and March 2007. A further 13 were suspended; 13 forfeited and 192 surrendered, according to DCMS figures. This is just 229 out of 59,000 licences granted - 0.38%. Only 435 requests for licences were refused - 61% of these by just five local authorities (Hackney, 20; Leicester, 20; Pembroke, 28; Torfaen, 73; Slough, 128). There were just 286 police objections to personal licence requests.



It is a curious outcome of the regulatory process that door supervisors, often under the control of personal licences holders, are nationally registered by the Securities Industry Authority and have to re-register on a more frequent basis than do personal licence holders under the 2003 Licensing Act. It might be worth considering whether the licensing of premises should remain with local authorities but personal licences should either be transferred to the SIA or a new national regulatory body.


Other issues


Temporary Event Notices


Although the courts are not usually involved in the process of granting such notices, the Association is aware that a number of possible loopholes exist that make it difficult to prevent the granting of such notices. Specifically, only the area of the 'sale' of alcohol needs to be specified allowing premises to be used more frequently than envisaged in the Act. The time limit for police objections is very limited if a TEN is lodged with the police late on a Friday afternoon. Although reputable applicants will usually provide more time, the time limits in the act can provide the possibility for abuse and might be re-considered to see whether they provide sufficient time in all cases to ensure the police can meet the prevention of crime and disorder objective.


During the period April 2006 to March 2007, some 101,083 TENs were granted. There were 175 cases where the police objected, and 164 requests were refused. 254 TENs were not granted because limits had been exceeded.


Use of Fixed Penalty and PND notices


The Association remains concerned that some violence involving alcohol is dealt with by means of a fixed penalty notice or penalty notice for disorder. The Association believes that all crimes involving violence, even when no lasting injury results, should be dealt with before a court. One reason is that ancillary orders, such as a ban on entering licensed premises, can be ordered by a court, but not as part of a fixed penalty. Such penalties may also have a lower collection rate than for court fines.


Drink driving


The consumption of alcohol before driving a motor vehicle remains a key concern for the Association. In many people's minds this is still regarded as a problem of the festive season. However, it is undoubtedly a problem throughout the year. Many drivers are still unaware of the relatively small amount of alcohol they need to consume to become over the limit. We welcome the proposed moves to increase awareness and responsible drinking. Many of those who appear in front of magistrates for this offence have never been before a court for any other matter.


Under-age drinking


Young people are particularly vulnerable to both the short term and the long term effects of alcoholic intoxication. Considerable attention has been paid to this issue and some of the actions, such as the 'two strikes and you are out' principle, have been noted above. No doubt the DCMS has a role to play in working with other government departments on this issue.


The more general issue of violence and disorder and the part played by alcohol


The Magistrates' Association is aware of the British Crime Survey findings that violent crime has been reducing since the peak reached in the late 1990s. DCMS has also recently published research into the effects of the 2003 Act. We note the following parliamentary answer given in the House of Commons in June this year by Home Office minister Vernon Coaker that sums up the evidence:


Alcoholic Drinks: Crime Prevention

The Home Office conducted an assessment of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder. A report: The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder: an evaluation (2008) by Hough et al was published early this year.

The main conclusion to be drawn from the evaluation is that licensing regimes may be one factor in effecting change to the country's drinking culture-and its impact on crime-but they do not appear to be the critical factor. The overall volume of incidents of crime and disorder remains unchanged, though there were signs that crimes involving serious violence may have reduced. There was, however, evidence of temporal displacement, in that the small proportion of violent crime occurring in the small hours of the morning had increased.

In surveys, local residents were less likely to say that drunk and rowdy behaviour was a problem after the change than before it, and the majority thought that alcohol-related crime was stable or declining. Police, local authorities and licensees generally welcomed the Act and the new powers it gave them once implementation teething problems were solved. In general they did not think that alcohol related crime had got worse.

In July 2007 the Home Office published findings from an analysis of data collected from a self-selecting sample of police forces (Violent crime, disorder and criminal damage since the introduction of the Licensing Act (2007) Babb et al).

The key finding from this study was when comparing the 12-months before and after the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003, there was a 1 per cent fall in recorded incidents involving violence, criminal damage and harassment; and a 5 per cent fall in serious violence. The findings also showed the timing of offence had changed; with a 1 per cent. increase in offences occurring between 6pm and 6am, and a steep rise in the small minority of offences occurring in the small hours between 3am and 6am-an increase which was large in proportional terms (25 per cent) but relatively small with regards to the number of incidents (236).

The evaluation of a multi-agency approach to tackle violence and disorder in the night-time economy was assessed in the 'Reducing alcohol-related violence and disorder: an evaluation of the TASC (2003) Macquire et al report. This report presented findings from a police-led multi-agency scheme launched in July 2000 under the Home Office with the aim of reducing alcohol-related crime and disorder in central Cardiff.

The findings from this study showed that there were significant reductions in violent and disorderly incidents occurring in or just outside individual pubs and clubs which were the subject of carefully targeted policing operations. The most successful of these, lasting eight weeks, was followed by reductions of 41 per cent and 36 per cent in such incidents in and around the two clubs targeted. The reductions were also sustained over time.

The Home Office also monitors the levels of alcohol-related violent crime and the perceptions of alcohol crime on an annual basis via the large-scale British Crime Survey (BCS). The results show that in 2006-07 46 per cent of victims of violent crime perceived the offender to be under the influence of alcohol; a similar proportion to the previous year (45 per cent.). Additionally, the proportion of adults who perceived drunk and rowdy behaviour in public places to be a fairly/very big problem in the year ending December 2007 was the same compared to the year ending 2006.

The Secretary of State for DCMS said in a written statement to the House of Commons on 4 March 2008 about the Evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003: and tackling alcohol-related harm

Whilst crimes involving violence may have reduced over the evening and night time period, the evidence also points to increases in offences, including violent crimes, reported between 3am and 6am.  This represents 4 per cent of night-time offences.

Similarly, whilst there is no clear picture of whether alcohol related demands on A&E services and alcohol-related admissions have risen, some hospitals have seen a fall in demand, others have reported an increase.

It is also clear that the overall reduction in alcohol-related disorder we wanted to see across the country has not materialised consistently in all areas. 

Although the Association is aware of DCMS desire for further new powers to deter wider anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol consumption, more may be needed by way of liaison between the DCMS and the Ministry of Justice to ensure a commonality of approach. For instance, the new Magistrates' Courts Sentencing Guidelines that came into force in August 2008 do not make explicit reference to the expectation of a licence withdrawal after two sales to those under eighteen within a specified period. Although we have no figures, we have not been notified by members of any increase in closure notices.

The Association notes that reference is generally made to offences and not to detection. It would be possible for the courts to see more offenders even if the level of offending fell, were the rate of detection to rise.


It is likely that the courts see only a proportion of alcohol related violence. As the following comment from the Government Office for the South East makes clear, not all violence may be reported to the police


Information collected by emergency departments is useful because many alcohol related assaults are not reported to the police but the injuries sustained in those assaults are often treated by hospitals. The information collected by emergency departments combined with police information provides a clearer picture of alcohol related crime and disorder in an area. There is evidence to show that the sharing of information between agencies can reduce assaults, thereby also reducing alcohol related injury admissions to emergency departments. Twenty two hospitals in the South East are currently involved in implementing this violence prevention model.


The evidence on the levels of alcohol related crime and disorder since the introduction of the 2003 Licensing Act seems somewhat mixed. In some areas there have been improvements whilst in others there remain concerns as two recent illustrations from the West Country have demonstrated.



Judge Cottle at Exeter Crown Court said that licensing laws had been 'relaxed to the point where there effectively weren't any'. - accessed from the web 25/08/2008


The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall police told the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this year that in 2004/05, 33% of violent offences in Devon and Cornwall were drink-related but this rose to 46.8% in 2007/08, or 3,261 crimes. - accessed from the web 25/08/2008


Recording alcohol and offending


There is an issue with reporting the relationship between alcohol and offending. Where the offence relates to the consumption of alcohol, such as drink driving, there is no problem. However, in domestic violence, how far is alcohol to be seen as an aggravating factor and does this mean that the offence should be classified as alcohol related?


Effective use of police resources following the introduction of the 2003 Licensing Act


Some of the evidence already cited refers to the fact that after 2005 more offences involving violence were taking place later in the evening and into the early hours of the morning. Although this is not an issue for DCMS, the long distance between charging centres in some rural areas can mean limited police cover to deal with these offences if police officers are conveying suspects from earlier incidents to a central charging centre. The risk must also be that the extension of opening hours has also spread police resources more thinly. The work undertaken in cities such as Cardiff may offer a solution in urban areas, but more thought may be needed in relation to towns with less than 100,000 populations; especially where there are concentrations of young people in the high risk 18-25 age group.




The 2003 Licensing Act confirmed many of the changes that were already being introduced by other means, such as later opening hours associated with public entertainment licences and the growth of clusters of premises in city centres that followed the decision in the late 1990s that justices could not consider the issue of 'need' when granting a new licence. These changes, together with the revolution in retailing, probably drove many of the changes that produced the current licensing scene.


For most, the social revolution in relation to alcohol consumption of the past twenty years has been a success; for a small minority, whether bent on violence or seduced into it by excess alcohol consumption, the effects of the 2003 Act have probably been minimal.


The courts are now only marginally involved in the licensing process, but remain fully involved in dealing with the consequences of the consumption of alcohol on society more generally.


The DCMS Select Committee is no doubt particularly interested in the regulatory aspects of the 2003 Licensing Act. Apart from the specific issues raised at the start of this note the Magistrates' Association recognises that, from the point of view of our members, the switch from our courts to local authorities as the regulatory body has been successful.


To the extent that this switch has not resulted in a nationwide reduction in alcohol related offending, the Act has so far been less successful.




September 2008