Christmas Trees and Licensing Baubles


When the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed, it was referred to by many as a “Christmas Tree” Act. Much of the detail of how it would work was to be dealt with by way of regulation, at that point yet to be prescribed. In that sense, the Christmas tree Act was not a shiny, gleaming scion of festive cheer, but a bare tree from which various licensing baubles were yet to be hung.

No one could have foreseen the sheer number of baubles which would materialise, like so much glittering reindeer dust. Many of these baubles have proven to be unwisely positioned and even though new, have already had to be re-hung. The Christmas tree is now sagging under the weight of these eye catching baubles, and is in danger of crushing the presents below.

In the preface to his annotated version of the statute, Jack Cummins talks of the “unremitting  stream” of case law arising from the old 1976 Act. What we have now is an unremitting stream of primary and secondary legislation. This must speak to the efficacy of the Act itself but more pressingly there must be a realisation that those who live, work and are ruled by this area of the law have had little time to breathe.

The tree-dressing elves have been too focused on the shiny baubles and have forgotten that the tree needs a sold trunk with sturdy branches. The purpose of the Act is not to make us drink less, it is to ensure responsibility. Where there is irresponsibility, then both the individuals and the operators who perpetrate it should be brought be task. But it is also an administrative system that is about supporting us as social beings in enjoying ourselves responsibly. It is about encouraging excellent standards in hospitality, encouraging benefits to local community, business and the Scottish economy, job creation and more. The unfortunate reality is that the system at present does little to help responsible operators and is becoming more and more a weapon for the health lobby.

This is a time of year when many rely on the good cheer and hospitality of the licensed trade. I shall raise a glass to those responsible operators and thank them for their service. I would also like to extend a message of goodwill and thanks to all the players in this game – the hard working local authority staff across Scotland who continuously strive to help pests like me, the police and civilian back room staff who are also essential to keeping the cogs oiled, my fellow licensing solicitors and all the other civil servants and agencies involved. Cheers!

My message for 2013 is to continue to strive for a system which sees us all working together to achieve what I myself believe is the nirvana: a system which allows responsible operators the fexibility to trade, achieve, and succeed; whilst having the teeth to deal with the irresponsible minority who let us down. And beyond that, and beyond licensing law, a real attempt to deal with the intellectual, social and economic poverty which leads people to abuse themselves and others. I hope we can all agree on that.

Many thanks to all who have viewed and contributed to this blog since it started in April 2012. I look forward to the many exciting challenges 2013 is sure to bring.

A very Merry Christmas to you all, and a prosperous 2013!


About Stephen McGowan

Leading Scottish licensing solicitor at TLT LLP.
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