ON THE REVOKATION OR LOSS OF PERSONAL LICENCES ACROSS SCOTLAND FOLLOWING THE REFRESHER TRAINING DEADLINE ON MONDAY 1 DECEMBER 2014
You were well warned. Regular followers of my blog will know that I have been one of the most vocal advocates of early refresher training. I, and other solicitors and licensing advisors, have been shouting to the trade via the press, social media and at conferences and seminars on this issue for over 18 months.
And yet, as the fallout began on 1 December 2014, it became clear that thousands of personal licences have now been revoked. The latest figures are available via the excellent Scottish Licensing Law and Practice website, here. Including some figures not yet listed on the site, the total number of licences lost is sitting at around 7000. That is simply incredible – and the number is only going to get higher as that only takes into account around half of the Scottish licensing boards.
I spent much of the weekend lodging refresher certificates for traders before the 11.59 deadline on Sunday 30 November 2014 – the last certificate I lodged was at 11.30pm or thereabouts. I have no doubt other licensing solicitors were in the same hell.
The position is as follows.
The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 requires a personal licence holder to undertake “refresher” training 5 years after the issue of the licence. The refresher training is not “renewal” of the licence as has been reported in some quarters. The licence itself lasts for ten years. The refresher training requirement may be shortly viewed as a condition of the licence – the training must be done; or else. This exists in s.87 of the 2005 Act and has been there since the law came into force on 1 September 2009. So the requirement has been signposted since that time.
The actual training course details, however, were not finalised until August 2013, following the appointment of a Scottish Government working group of which I was a member. This group, which consisted of various trade bodies, Alcohol Focus Scotland, and other stakeholders, decided on the specification for the refresher course and it was decided that it should be a half day course with multiple choice exam. The first refresher course to be delivered in Scotland was the BIIAB course, at the Tennents Training Academy in Glasgow – and yours truly was the tutor.
The refresher course was thereafter rolled out across the country with various training providers, and licence holders began to sign up. The first deadline for the first batch of licence holders affected – this is going to be an ongoing issue and is not a one off – was to sit the course, and pass it, by 30 August 2014. The Scottish Government advised that around 30,000 people passed the course before the deadline. Unfortunately, with no national personal licence database we have no idea of the true number of people who should have sat the refresher but it could be as much as 40,000. The second deadline was to intimate the “pass” to the relevant licensing board before 1 December 2014.
If either of these deadlines has been missed, the licensing board has no option but to revoke the personal licence. There is no appeal. In addition, the person is thereafter banned from re-applying for another personal licence for five years. A ban worse than a drug-taking olympian!
If the personal licence holder is a DPM then there is knock on effect to premises and ultimately we are talking about people losing their job because the licence is a mandatory requirement, and premises closing down. I strongly urge anyone affected by this to seek the services of a specialist licensing solicitor urgently. I and my licensing solicitor colleagues are doing our best to guide our clients through the mire.
This whole episode is a car crash of mammoth proportions. When 7000 licences are revoked (and the true number may be as many as 10,000) then something somewhere is clearly wrong.
Ultimately the requirement falls on the individual licence holders. They are the ones with the obligation to have passed the course and intimated this to the licensing board. The licensing boards have no option but to revoke due to wording in the Act. Many boards are taking a pragmatic approach and “allowing” people to surrender their licence so as to avoid revokation and a five year ban; but others have simply revoked all affected licences in one fell swoop. But please let’s not blame the boards. They have all issued reminders, press releases and so on.
There will be some people who no longer need the licence for various reasons and have simply allowed the licence to lapse. But there are others who have through their own ignorance or procrastination are now facing difficult times and decisions.
The Scottish Government was asked to amend s.87 to try to avoid the 5 year ban. It has sought to do so, under the new Air Weapons and Licensing Bill, but that will not be enacted until late 2015 or later so it doesn’t help anyone facing the dole queue at this point in time. The Government was not minded to introduce emergency legislation to fix this issue. The irony in all this is that I believe the five year ban was never intended to apply to licence holders who missed the training. I believe the five year ban was designed to catch people who have had licences revoked following a hearing where they have been found to have acted inconsistently with the licensing objectives, or following conviction. Yet the drafting of the Act “catches” those who miss the training deadline and lumps them in with people who have serious criminal convictions or have fundamentally mis-managed a premises and lost the licence because of that.
It seems absurd that there are thousands of people out there who have in fact sat and passed the training course – no doubt many with flying colours – and have still had their licence revoked for not notifying the licensing board of their pass.
It is difficult not to view this catastrophe as the latest in a long line of examples of how poor the 2005 Act is. We are now facing a fourth peice of primary legislation to “get it right”. We have countless regulations to deal with. The licensing laws of Scotland are now so unfathomable, scattered as they are across various sources, that even the few true specialists struggle. The police have problems with the Act. Health stakeholders have problems with the Act. Licensing boards, clerks and administration staff have problems with the Act. LSOs have problems with the Act. Licensing solicitors have problems with the Act.
Please spare a thought for the poor licence holder whose livelihood is based upon the Act!
Although I have stated on a number of occasions that ultimately the failure to comply with these requirements sits with the personal licence holder, at the very least this whole debacle demonstrates my point above about the lack of awareness of what the laws are: and that must surely add weight to the increasing calls for a consolidatory Act.