An interesting Court Case and Appeal
In the case of Little France Ltd v Ealing London Borough Council, the High Court has quashed a decision made by the Ealing licensing sub-committee, which was confirmed by magistrates on appeal, to restrict premises hours and ordered that the whole matter to be re-considered by the licensing authority.
Background There had been a firearms incident near the nightclub and the police applied for an expedited review of the premises licence. Interim steps were requested and imposed pending a full review.
At the full review the licensing authority decided to impose new restrictions and in particular a new earlier terminal hour of 02:00. The decision of the licensing authority was unaccompanied by any reasons.
Little Franc Ltd appealed to the magistrates’ court. The challenge was only to the new terminal hour. The magistrates’ court considered both parties’ submissions and the written evidence on which the licensing authority had relied. It held that the decision of the licensing authority was correct, proportionate and reasonable; there was a catalogue of reported incidents and the nightclub was in a mixed commercial and residential area. The magistrates’ court agreed that the terminal hour should be 02.00 and accordingly dismissed the appeal.
Little France Ltd appealed against the decision of the magistrates’ court, which was heard in the High Court.
High Court Decision The High Court addressed four questions:
1. Where the licensing authority had failed to give any or adequate reasons for its decision, how should a magistrates’ court address an appeal?
2. Was the magistrates’ court bound to give any reasons why it preferred the evidence adduced by the licensing authority rather than that of Little France Ltd?
3. Did the Court apply the wrong test when limiting the hours during which licensable activities could take place?
4. Were the reasons in relation to the magistrates’ court decision to award costs to the licensing authority unreasonable (in the Wednesbury sense)?
As to the first question, the High Court found in favour of the premises. It held that whilst a wholly unreasoned decision might possibly be correct, a magistrates’ court on appeal could not merely endorse such a decision; it had to give sufficient reasons of its own, taking into account ‘the fullness and clarity of the reasons, the nature of the issues and the evidence given on the appeal’, following R. (on the application of Hope & Glory Public House Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
As to the second question, it was held that this was a matter for the magistrates’ court, having regard to the evidence before them. It was generally up to the appellant in these cases to show that the decision below was wrong and call evidence if the facts were disputed.
The High Court also found for the applicant with regard to the third question. The use of “reasonable” was not criticised. However, the only material challenge was to the restriction of hours and the magistrates’ court decision failed to show how that restriction was necessary (as required by the legislation). As a result, it had failed to apply the correct test.
The fourth question was also decided in favour of applicant, Little France Ltd. The explanation the magistrates had given had been Wednesbury unreasonable, that is, it took no account of L’s entitlement to a reasoned decision.
The High Court therefore varied the decision of the Magistrates’ Court and remit the matter back to the licensing sub-committee to be re-determined. The High Court also ordered the local authority to pay the costs of the High Court in full.
This case highlights the importance for the licensing authorities (and the Magistrates’ Court) to state the reasons for any decision made in relation to a premises, otherwise such cases could be subject to re-determination.
A copy of the summary of the judgment can be found here
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