Portsmouth City Council’s licensing committee is a regulatory committee responsible for licensing in the city.
We understand that an appearance before a committee of councillors may be a strange experience for some – the information below is designed to help you understand what to expect, and is aimed at:
- Licence holders or applicants appearing before the committee
- Legal practitioners
- Other interested parties
Our aim is to ensure that the committee exercises its responsibilities fairly, impartially and after hearing all the relevant evidence in any one matter.
The role of the licensing committee
The licensing committee comprises councillors and their standing deputies who are responsible for the City Council’s licensing function. A comprehensive list of those licences under the control of the committee is detailed in the leaflet ‘take a look at licensing’ which is available on request.
The committee has the full delegated authority of the council to determine policy matters, fee structures, contested applications and disciplinary cases against licence holders. This means the committee’s decisions are the council’s decisions – they do not need to be endorsed or agreed by other committees.
This is important as it allows the committee to hear and determine licensing matters quickly, and means there will be no confusion over the validity of any decision made.
The committee normally convenes in a conference room of the Civic Offices or a committee room in the Guildhall. The chair of the committee and the legal adviser sit along one side with the committee members sitting to their right. The applicant and any legal representatives sit opposite the chair and to their right sit the committee administrator, a licensing officer and any other officers.
What legal rules govern the committee?
When considering applications the committee is required to act as a ‘quasi-judicial’ body. There are certain fundamental rules of administrative law that govern how the committee works:
- Natural Justice – The committee will actively encourage hearings in person and allow applicants, objectors and other interested parties to make representations. Applicants or licence holders may be accompanied and represented by a legal adviser or some other person, such as a friend. The committee’s procedures will reflect the standards “that any reasonable person would expect to see applied”. All committee members will receive copies of all documents and other submissions to be considered and will hear all the arguments before reaching a conclusion.
- Exercise of discretion – Many statutes allow decisions of the committee to be made using a wide discretion. This must be a real exercise of discretion and based on what the law says we can consider in any one subject – not, for example, to make licensing decisions based on political or moral grounds. Equally, on matters of policy, the Committee must be prepared to adopt a flexible attitude and, on occasion, may consider applications that do not comply with policy considerations for individual licensing matters.
- Bias and fairness – Committee members are bound by standing orders and national codes of conduct. Members must not prejudge or show bias in any matter and must declare pecuniary interests at the start of every committee meeting. The committee comprises experienced councillors who, where possible, do not have interests in licensing matters which are likely to debar them from consideration of, or voting on, any particular issue.
Licensing committee responsibilities
To help the committee deal with its business quickly and efficiently we will meet the following standards of care:
Officers at a licensing committee
Different officers are present at the licensing committee for the following reasons:
- A legal adviser – assists the committee with legal advice and ensures that a fair and balanced hearing takes place.
- The licensing officer, or their representative – advises on policy, present cases, explains recommendations and, if necessary, calls on other council officers from teams such as environmental health, planning, or engineers, to give evidence to the committee.
- A committee administrator – summarises and records decisions on individual matters and assists members of the public attending committee meetings.
- The police and fire authorities are sometimes represented at committee hearings. They are not council officers but attend to give impartial advice as required by law.
The committee values the comments of the public and other third parties who might wish to make representations on any licensing matter – however, there are some important points to consider:
- Objections must be in writing and state clearly what the issues are, why you believe they are relevant to the application and why the applicant cannot resolve these problems.
- Objections must be submitted in good time and within any statutory time periods – normally within 28 days of an application being submitted. Late objections will only be considered (if legally acceptable) with the approval of the chair and after hearing representations from the applicant, legal representatives and the licensing officer.
- Objections should be specific and relevant and not stated in general or vague terms – these are liable to be rejected.
- Objectors may address the committee either singularly or may elect a spokesperson.
- We allow a total of 20 minutes to speak on any one licensing matter – 10 minutes for objectors, and 10 minutes for supporters.
- No one person may speak (either for or against an application) for more than five minutes – if several people wish to speak on an item, then the 10 minutes is ‘split’ equally between them.
- Notice of deputations must be given (verbally or in writing) by 12 noon on the day before the meeting to the committee administrator. Remember, your evidence may be questioned by the applicant, councillors and the licensing officer – it is the quality of your evidence, not the quantity, that is likely to be more persuasive.
- Anonymous objections will not normally be considered unless the relevant statute allows for this.
- Petitions may be considered – but due to their nature, the committee may consider carefully the weight of evidence either for or against a petition and its contents.
- The committee may itself, or after seeking advice, reject any representations received – if it believes the submissions will not assist in reaching a decision on any competent matter.
The committee has adopted procedures to hear licensing applications. These procedures are used as a guide to negotiate sometimes complex and lengthy hearings. Two procedures are shown. The full procedure is mainly used for consideration of things such as entertainment licence applications for nightclubs. The simplified procedure is for considering individual disciplinary cases.
|Simplified hearing procedure||Full hearing procedure|
Additional notes for full and simplified hearing procedures:
If the committee, when in private session, need to question or clarify a matter with either the licensing officer or applicant then they shall do so in the presence of both parties.
Members must be present throughout the hearing and must not communicate with any officer, the applicant or other third party except in accordance with the procedure rules.
Hearing the evidence
The committee will consider all available evidence either by hearing verbal representations and/or considering written submissions.
Sometimes the chair might direct that submissions will not be heard if, for example, the statements are repetitive, or the legal adviser rules that the evidence is not relevant.
Evidence is not given under oath but the committee is entitled to expect that all persons will conduct themselves respectfully and honestly. The committee is not seeking to undermine or determine the absolute ‘rights or wrongs’ of individual submissions, but is working on the ‘balance of probabilities’ when assessing the weight of evidence it will attach to individual submissions.
Licence holders or applicants may want their adviser to lead them through the relevant facts when presenting a case. There may be occasions where hearsay evidence is permitted, subject to legal advice.
Evidence will be given in public unless a particular item is considered to be ‘exempt or confidential’ whereby the press and public will be excluded from the hearing. This normally applies to disciplinary cases which by nature contain sensitive and/or confidential information.
Photographic, taped or video recorded evidence may be given with the permission of the chair and provided that advance notification is given to the committee administrator or licensing officer.
Licensing committee decisions
Members will normally make their decision in private. Only the legal adviser and committee administrator will remain in the room. The chair will announce the committee’s decision, and may give brief reasons for reaching that decision.
The licensing officer will communicate the decision in writing – in all cases, reasons for reaching a decision will be given.