Joint Committee On Human Rights Seventh Report

Licensing Bill

31. We have previously considered two main issues in relation to this Bill: first, the ability of local residents to have a say before licences are granted for premises in the area; secondly, the effect of the proposed licensing requirements on performers, particularly in pubs and places of worship. In our Fourth Report, we drew the attention of each House to the second of these issues, taking the view that it (but not the first issue) raised a substantial question of compatibility with human rights.[23] In particular, we drew attention to the risk that clause 134 of the Bill, making it a criminal offence for performers, among others, to carry out a licensable activity (including many public performances) without due authorisation, would be disproportionate to the legitimate aims of the licensing scheme and hence would be incompatible with the right to freedom of expression under ECHR Article 10.[24]

32. The Government agreed to propose an amendment to clause 134 to exclude from criminal liability a person whose only involvement in an entertainment is as a performer or participant.[25] The new provision now forms clause 134(2) and (3) of the Bill as amended on Report in the House of Lords.

33. The effect of the Bill, as amended, would be to place the responsibility for ensuring that a venue is properly licensed firmly on the occupier of the premises where the entertainment is to take place and the organizer of the entertainment. The organizer will have to check that the premises are licensed for an event of that kind. If they are not licensed, either the organizer or the occupier will have to obtain a licence for the particular event.

34. While the licensing scheme under the Bill as amended would still interfere with rights under ECHR Article 10.1, we consider that the Government is entitled to take the view that that the interference would be justifiable under Article 10.2. The licensing regime serves legitimate aims, namely the protection of public safety, the protection of the rights of others, and the prevention of crime and disorder. It is legitimate to say that there is a pressing social need for regulation. The issue is one of proportionality. By avoiding the criminalisation of performers, the amendment to clause 134 seems to us to re-balance the rights and interests affected so as to prevent any interference with the performers' right to freedom of expression being disproportionate. We therefore welcome the amendment to clause 134.

35. As we noted in our Fourth Report, the Government intends that certain venues would be exempt from the licensing requirements, and some others would be exempt from the fees normally chargeable for entertainment licences.[26] While the proposals would make the licensing regime more responsive to the requirements of ECHR Article 10, exempting (for example) places of worship but not secular venues from the licensing regime might give rise to discrimination and threaten a violation of the right to be free from discrimination under ECHR Article 14 taken together with Article 9 (the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 10 (freedom of expression). We draw this risk to the attention of each House, and we might wish to report further on it when we have had an opportunity to consider carefully the terms of the Government's proposed amendments to the Bill.

23   Joint Committee on Human Rights, Fourth Report of 2002-03, HL Paper 50/ HC 397, p 8, para 11 and pp 10-11, paras 18-19 Back

24   ibid., p 11, para 19 Back

25   See the letter dated 21 February 2003 from the Legal Adviser to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, reproduced in an appendix to this Report, Ev 9-10 Back

26   Fourth Report, pp 10-11, para 18 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 21 March 2003