Skin Deep


I read with interest a recent article in the Glasgow Evening Times concerning skin piercing and tattoo licensing, and a call from an operator to tighten up on the regime by imposing “new” requirements. The article states: “Under current legislation, anyone can apply to Glasgow City Council for a licence to perform tattoos without having to prove either their technical knowledge, skill or artistic ability”. I would not agree, as is explained below.

The operator is quoted as saying: “We have worked really hard to improve the overall reputation of the industry. But licensing is taking that away and dragging that back down again. It is giving people with no experience free rein to do what they want, and it is the public that suffer. It is high time the industry was properly regulated”.

The question of a skills test also seems to open up a question as to artistic merit and I note that Glasgow City Council is quoted as saying: “Regulating the artistic merit of a tattoo is not a feature of the legislation and is therefore not within the power of the council”.

So what exactly does the law say?

It was not until 2 February 2006 that a licence was required for skin/tattoo parlours in Scotland. The activity became licensable under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 by virtue of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Licensing of Skin Piercing and Tattooing” Order 2006 (SSI 2006/43). The licence covers a vast array of what might shortly be termed as “body art” from tattoos to beading, piercings, earlobe stretching and so on, as well as acupuncture and electrolysis. This was all covered in an implementation guide prepared in conjunction with the NHS and was released in July 2007.

The 2006 Order made this licence “mandatory” meaning local authorities have no option but to license this activity (other licensable activities are optional and may or may not be licensed by each local authority on it’s own judgement).

Unlike some other forms of licence, the 2006 Order imposes a specific requirement that premises must be inspected before a licence can be granted. In addition, there is also a different treatment of applicants for this type of licence as far as “fit and proper” goes. The licensing authority is required to have regard to the “knowledge, skill, training and experience” that the applicant can  demonstrate.

This is quite significant in that it is the only example of the burden of proof being inverted under the 1982 Act, the onus being on the applicant to prove his or her knowledge, skill, training and experience.

The Act also imposes a whole raft of special conditions which I will not detail here, but suffice to say they are substantial, comprehensive and are all designed to ensure public safety and hygiene.

It seems to me that there is sufficient powers already in place at the disposal of licensing authorities to meet the claims of the operator in the Evening Times article. Yet her anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. I wonder if there is an issue with staff not being properly trained or licensed. And as for artistry, I would tend to agree with Glasgow Council on this – the merits of a design could not and should not be regulated. How could that be done, and who would be the person to judge whether a piece of body art has sufficient artistic merit or not?

To learn more about the law in this area, see Chapter 17 of my book Local Government Licensing Law in Scotland which looks at the regime in more detail.



About Stephen McGowan

Leading Scottish licensing solicitor at TLT LLP.
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