Reform of licensing laws in NI

Update on Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill 


The Committee for Communities has released a report following its consideration of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill which outlines a number of key amendments proposed by the Committee.

During scrutiny of the Bill, the Committee heard evidence from a diverse range of organisations who have an interest in the wider alcohol industry (including hospitality, registered clubs and local producers) and those organisations that have an interest in minimising alcohol-related harm in society, particularly in relation to children and young people. Overall, the Committee held 35 oral evidence sessions and received 58 written submissions from interested organisations. 

Stephen McGowan, Partner and Eoin Devlin, Legal Director in TLT’s multi- jurisdiction licensing team, provided oral evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Institute of Licensing. Stephen was able to outline how some of the proposed reforms, which are already in place in Scotland, had worked in practice.

Key Amendments Proposed by the Committee

Following scrutiny of the Bill, the Committee has proposed a number of amendments. Among the key proposed changes are:

  • To bring the additional opening hours on any Sunday into line with those currently permitted on weekdays for both licensed premises and registered clubs;
  • To increase the number of times that small pubs can apply to the police for late opening from 85 to 104;
  • To increase the number of times that a registered clubs can apply to the police for late opening for special occasions from 85 to 104;
  • Further changes to the local producers licence to (i) increase the quantity of alcohol that local producers may provide as part of a tour from 1 sample to no more than 4 samples, (ii)   limit the permitted hours for consumption of samples in the premises from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm, and, (iii) provide a definition of a “tour”;
  • To allow local alcohol producers to apply for a new licence to operate a taproom during limited hours (4.00 pm -10.00 pm) for 104 days in any year but restrict the sale of alcohol to that produced in the production premises only;
  • To restrict the use of occasional licences for those who hold a taproom licence;
  • To allow a young person to remain on licensed premises while in the process of leaving/waiting to be collected from an underage function and allow a young person to be in the company of a parent of another child attending such a function;
  • To place a statutory duty on the Department of Health to legislate for minimum unit pricing within 3 years of the Bill coming into operation;
  • To require registered clubs to apply to the courts for approval to make alterations to club premises.

Furthermore, there were two specific matters which the Committee agreed specific actions with the Minister of Communities, Deirdre Hargey.

The first matter relates to sale of alcohol in cinemas.  It was agreed that the Minster would instruct a short consultation over the summer months on the sale of alcohol in cinemas and if no serious concerns are raised then regulations would be brought to the Assembly in autumn to include cinemas in the definition of “place of public entertainment”, in order to permit the sale of alcohol.

Secondly, it was agreed that it was necessary to compile a full and accessible list of all licensed premises in NI and the Minster agreed to engage with the Justice Minister, Naomi Long, to take this forward to create a central database.

This is another important step on the way to modernisation of liquor licensing legislation in NI.   It is significant that the Committee has agreed much of the clauses of the Bill as drafted while proposing a number of specific amendments. 

One significant proposed amendment, which was raised at length during the evidence to the Committee, relates to the provision for ‘taprooms’. This will be of real interest to local distilleries and breweries as the amendment proposes a new category of licence to allow local producers to operate ‘taprooms’ and sell directly to the public, during limited hours, 104 days a year.

This will be welcomed by many local producers who have struggled with the complexity of obtaining a licence under our current legislation.  Currently if local producers wanted to sell to the public in this way they would have to utilise the occasional licence system or attempted to apply for a licence to sell directly to the public in the same way as a normal bar.  This would have required the purchase and surrender of a subsisting licence, the cost of which, was extremely prohibitive for many small businesses. 

If the amendment is passed local producers will be required to make an application to the Court, in much the same way as restaurants do in this jurisdiction at present, without the requirement to surrender an existing licence.  The local producer will be restricted to selling their own product.

Conclusion

The Bill will now move to the Consideration Stage of legislative process on 8 June 2021 where MLAs will debate the Committee’s report and the proposed amendments in the Assembly. The Bill is expected to become law in autumn 2021.

TLT has extensive experience in licensing matters in Northern Ireland and in the jurisdictions of England & Wales and Scotland. If you would like to discuss your requirements with us, please contact Orla Kennedy or Eoin Devlin or our Belfast office.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms and conditions.


By Orla Kennedy

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