Top Tips for the Nothern Irish Trade – Common Pitfalls in Liquor Licensing for Hotels and Restaurants and how to avoid them

18/02/2016 11:27:48

This blog is bought to you in conjunction with IFEX: Northern Ireland's PREMIER food, drink, retail and hospitality event, taking place 8th to 10th March at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast. IFEX is organised by Fresh Montgomery.

In Northern Ireland liquor licensing is governed by legislation and the Courts (rather than local councils as in other parts of the UK).  As a result, it is increasingly important to obtain expert and timely advice in an attempt to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.  Here are some examples and points to consider:
  • Not leaving enough time for procedure before opening

Given the busy Court system, in terms of new licence applications, there is generally only one hearing date per month (in some divisions only one date every two months).  As the application for a new licence requires service on statutory bodies, display and advertisement in newspapers within specified time periods (as prescribed under legislation), it is vital that you forward plan and consult your advisors with as much notice as possible.  Failure to follow the correct procedure is one of the grounds of objection and can lead to an unsuccessful application.  As well as an experienced licensing solicitor, you will also need an architect who can produce the appropriate plans for Court and comment on the suitability of your premises.  It is often advisable to make a provisional grant application (to initially approve your plans) in advance to ensure Court approval before substantial money is spent on construction/renovation works.  A final approval can then be requested from the Court when the premises are ready to open and trade. 

  • Plans which do not reflect your premises

It is essential that the licensing drawings held by the Court for your premises are accurate.  Any amendments to your premises should be done in consultation with an experienced licensing solicitor in advance as Court permission may be required before works are completed.  The type of application depends on the level of change to your premises.  A significant increase in licensed area or a change to your curtilage may require a new licence application and therefore careful attention needs to be paid to any potential amendments.

  • Forgetting to renew

All liquor licences in Northern Ireland must be renewed by the appropriate Court division every five years.  The last renewal date was September 2012 meaning the next process must be completed for September 2017.   Failure to renew can invalidate your licence and therefore jeopardise your business.  Renewing out of time can be a very costly process and given that renewal is usually a straightforward application, consulting a solicitor in advance could save you a lot of money and hassle! 

  • Not providing adequately for children on your premises

Licence holders must take care in dealing with “under 18s” on their premises.  A Court application is necessary to obtain a Children’s Certificate.  A notice must then be displayed on your premises detailing the existence of the Children’s Certificate and its effects.  Anyone below the age of 18 should not be at an open bar so advice should be taken in the design of the area to ensure suitability of the premises and protection for minors.  Steps can easily be taken to accommodate children and promote a family friendly business!

Mills Selig is a client-centred commercial law firm in Belfast with a particular interest and specialism in Liquor Licensing.  For further advice please contact John Kearns or Maeve Fisher of Mills Selig Solicitors on 90 243878 or john.kearns@millsselig.com or maeve.fisher@millsselig.com.  John is recognised as a leader in this area as he “can always be relied upon thanks to his judgment and knowledge in the field” (Chambers& Partners UK 2016).  Maeve is listed as a ‘Star Associate’ in Chambers & Partners UK 2016 for being both “dedicated” and “extremely diligent”.

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