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Licensing Act – A Summary

Licensing is now controlled by the 2003 Licensing Act. If you want to sell alcohol, serve hot food between certain hours, and promote live entertainment such as dancing or shows, you will need a licence under the Act

The Act stipulates that any person or company who wishes to pursue activities covered by the Act must have:

  • A premises Licence for the location in which the activities are to take place
  • A person responsible for running those activities, called a Premises Supervisor, who must have passed a course at which they are taught their responsibilities

Failure to comply is a criminal offence punishable by a term of imprisonment or a hefty fine.


The application form is prescribed by the 2003 Licensing Act and is served on the Licensing Department of the Local Authority which now deals with these matters. Other local departments such as the Police and Fire Service must also be served. An advert in a specified form must be placed in the papers within 28 days, and displayed at the premises during that time. If no objection is received within 28 days from any of the bodies upon whom the application has been served, or an interested member of the public, then the licence must be granted.

The application must be accompanied by a plan showing which parts of the premises are to be used for which activities, and must also demonstrate how the objects under the Act are to be promoted. These are principally involved with the promotion of good behaviour by customers, the protection of children, the control of the consumption of alcohol and similar matters.


If an objection is received within the 28 days, then the Licensing Officer will try to broker an agreement between the objector and the applicant. If this cannot be done, the matter is referred to the Licensing Committee of the Local Authority who will decide whether or not to grant the licence and if so under what conditions. There is a right of appeal to the Courts.


The licence lasts until revoked; the holder becomes insolvent or dies or, for example, is struck off the company’s registry. Note that if the Licensee abuses the conditions of the licence there are procedures for its revocation or review.

If any changes are proposed to the permitted hours, the activities, or the area in which those are to be carried out, then the Licensee must make an application for a formal variation of the licence in the same way as an application was made for the original Premises Licence.

Premises supervisor

One of the objects of the Act was to make sure that a named individual was responsible for ensuring the activities carried out in the premises were those authorised by the Act, and to ensure also that the objects of the Act were promoted properly. This person, who must be named on the licence or at least identified, is known as the Premises Supervisor.

The holder of such a licence has to undergo formal training and be the holder of a certificate of successful attendance at a course for proposed premises supervisors so that he or she can then apply for a Personal Licence. That application is made to the Police, with a copy to the Local Authority, and must include with it details of the applicants previous criminal convictions. These can be obtained by the individuals concerned from various bodies including Disclosure Scotland upon payment of the appropriate fee.

Local Authority policies

It is always a wise precaution to contact the Licensing Department of the Local Authority in which you are going to operate, to see if there are local policies that they expect to be adhered to by people who hold premises licences. For example there may be a general acceptance that 24 hour alcohol licenses (which were introduced as a possibility by the 2003 Act) should not be encouraged or at least not on every day of the week unless particular precautions are made to ensure that there is no initial difficulty or disorder resulting from them.

Local Authorities will in particular insist that there are categoric policies concerning the welfare of children. You will be required as a condition of your licence and as part of your application to satisfy the Local Authority that no unaccompanied children will be allowed on the premises, and that the bar staff will be trained not to serve alcohol to under aged customers.

Although the old concept of “drinking up time” has now gone, it will be normal to say to the Local Authorities in the schedule detailing your activities in the application, that the sale of alcohol and the service of hot food (rather than their consumption) will cease half an hour before the premises are to due to be empty.

Contact our Commercial Litigation department today to find out more about how we can help you.

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