To consider the application for the transfer of a premises licence – Indian Villa, Thaxted.
The Chair invited the Licensing Team Leader to present the report.
The report set out the details of the India Villa’s application for the transfer of a premises licence, which had received an objection on 28 August 2019 from Essex Police under the Crime and Disorder licensing objective. The Police had set out their reasons for objecting to the transfer at Appendix B to the report, as on 21 June 2019 four persons were arrested for immigration offences who were working at the India Villa. The Police report stated that there were clear links between the existing and proposed Premises Licence Holder and suggested that a continuation of illegal working practices would continue if the licence was transferred.
In response to a question from the Solicitor, Mr Logue said he had read the papers and supported the Police’s objection to the transfer.
Mr Burke was invited to present the Police’s report to the Panel.
Mr Burke summarised the Police report. He reiterated that four persons working at the India Villa had been arrested on 21 June 2019 for immigration offences. It had not been the first time illegal workers had been found at the India Villa as on 14 June 2017 two illegal workers had been found on the premises. He added that the transfer was a ‘paper exercise’ and the Police believed that the existing and proposed licensee were connected. Thus, current management would continue to run the business in a manner that ignored the Immigration Act and breached the prevention of Crime and Disorder licensing objective.
In response to a member question, Mr Burke confirmed that Surma Villa Ltd was a single share company that had been transferred from a Mr Hussain to a Mr Hussain. He confirmed that they resided at the same address, although were of different age.
At the invitation of the Chair, Mr Logue said he had witnessed a “seamless transition” since the company had been transferred. He said the previous manager, Mr Hussain, was at the restaurant on a daily basis.
At 10am the Panel retired to deliberate.
At 10.15am the Panel reconvened and the Chair read the Decision Notice.
DECISION NOTICE –INDIA VILLA, 20 WATLING STREET, THAXTED (2)
The application before the Panel today is for a transfer of the premises licence of the India Villa restaurant, Watling Street, Thaxted. The application is dated 17th August 2019 and is opposed by Essex Police as the responsible authority, pursuant to the crime and disorder licensing objective.
We have a report before us and have considered the Licensing Act 2003, the Home Office’s most recently Revised Guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 (April 2018) and Uttlesford District Council’s Statement of Licensing Act 2003 Policy 2017-22. We also have before us a copy of the transfer application and of the Police objection, and note that the Applicant, the police and the previous licence holder have been notified of the hearing in accordance with the Licensing Act 2003 (Hearings) Regulations 2005 and Licensing Act 2003 (Hearings) (Amendment) Regulations 2005 ( “the Regulations”). Information to accompany the notice of hearing was also provided in accordance with “the Regulations”, and if we refuse the application today then the situation reverts to the pre 17th August 2019 status quo as though the application had never been made.
By way of background, the India Villa restaurant licence has something of a chequered history. Today, we are here to consider the Police objection to the application for the transfer of the premises licence, and decide whether to:
(a) Grant the application for the transfer of the premises licence from Ashik Miah to Surma Villa Ltd or
(b) Reject the application for the transfer of the premises licence to Surma Villa Ltd if appropriate to do so in order to promote the crime prevention objective.
We remind ourselves that in carrying out our statutory function, we must promote the licensing objectives as set out in the 2003 Act, namely:-
a. The prevention of crime and disorder
b. Public safety
c. The prevention of public nuisance
d. The protection of children from harm
There is no hierarchy of importance and all must be given equal weight.
An application for the transfer of an existing premises licence under Section 42 of the Act is normally a straightforward procedure and is dealt with administratively under delegated authority. Notice of the application needs to be served on the Police and also the Home Office if alcohol and/ or late-night refreshment are involved.
Under Section 42 (6) of the Act, however, where a Chief Officer of Police is satisfied that the exceptional circumstances of the case are such that granting the application would undermine the crime prevention objective then he must serve notice of this objection upon the Licensing Authority within fourteen days of receiving the application. When such an objection is received from the Police the matter must be referred to the Licensing and Environmental Health Committee for a hearing to determine the application. Such is the position in this case.
An application to transfer a premises licence under the Licensing Act 2003 was received by Uttlesford District Council (“the Licensing Authority”) from Surma Villa Ltd on 22 August 2019 (Appendix 1). Surma Villa Ltd has applied to transfer the premises licence into its name from the current licence holder, Mr Ashik Miah. Records show that Premises Licence no PL0406 was granted to Mr Miah on 25 May 2018. In this case the request was for the transfer to have immediate effect and it was administered by the Licensing Authority accordingly. Section 43 of the Act allows the premises licence to have effect during the “application period” as if the applicant were already the holder of the licence. This began when the application was received by the Licensing Authority and ends when the application is granted, or if it is rejected, at the time the rejection is notified to the applicant. If a decision is made to appeal a determination, then the “application period” continues until the determination by that court.
On 28 August 2019 the Licensing Authority received a notice of objection under Section 42 (6) of the Act from Essex Police including a detailed statement of their reasons for objecting (Appendix 2). These reasons were considered by the Licensing Team Leader to be a valid objection under the Act, and therefore the matter was placed before us to determine the application under Section 44 (5) of the Act.
To recap, the decisions available to the Committee in respect of this application are to
(a) grant the transfer of this premises licence to Surma Villa Ltd or
(b) to reject the application for the transfer of the premises licence to Surma Villa Ltd if it considers it appropriate to do so for the promotion of the crime prevention objective.
Whatever option is decided upon, clear reasons should be given for the decision.
The premises are already the subject of a review application, which is due to be determined by the Licensing and Environmental Committee on 1 October 2019. The review application was made by the Police on the grounds of crime and disorder relating to immigration offences.
Paragraph 8.101 of the Secretary of State’s Guidance states that objections to transfers are expected to be rare and arise because the police or the Home Office have evidence that the business or individuals are involved in crime, in this case the employment of illegal workers.
The applicant has not attended before us today but we are satisfied that they have had proper notice of this hearing and indeed were personally served by the Enforcement Officer, at a date giving them ample opportunity to make any necessary arrangements. WE have however, heard from Mr Burke on behalf of Essex Police, who was supported by Mr Logue, a neighbouring resident. WE have read all the papers before us and have been told today by both Mr Logue and by the Enforcement Officer that Mr A Hussain remains in day to day control of the premises. The only thing that has actually been transferred is one £1.00 share in a limited company, and we note from the Companies House documentation provided by the Police that both transferor and transferee reside at the same address. This is not a new business, much less an unconnected applicant and we do not believe that anything will change.
We have taken into account everything we have both read and heard and at this point I repeat the provisions of the April 2018 edition of the Home Office Guidance. I make no apology for doing so. It specifically includes immigration offences in the list of matters Licensing committees are required to take into consideration, and says:-
“There is certain criminal activity that may arise in connection with licensed premises which should be treated particularly seriously. These are the use of licensed premises for…..
• Employing a person who is disqualified from that work by reason of their immigration status in the UK.
The grounds upon which the Police have made this application are that Licensing Objective One, the prevention of crime and disorder, has been breached. The important word is “prevention.”
This Committee’s primary function is the protection of the public. Though we are not a Court and the standard of proof before us is the civil one of the balance of probabilities, we are satisfied that the Police, supported by Mr Logue have made out their case and that the application for the transfer of the premises licence should be refused. The licence therefore reverts to its previous holder Mr Miah with immediate effect.
There is a right of appeal against this decision which must be exercised within a period of 21 days and during this period the license remains in force. Everyone before us will receive a letter from the Legal Department enclosing a copy of this decision notice and explaining their rights of appeal.