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Reintroduction of 'fit and proper' test proposed as part of new approach to Scottish alcohol licensing

Proposed changes to alcohol licensing in Scotland would reintroduce stricter tests for those applying for license to sell alcohol, while supplying alcohol to children or young people for consumption in a public place would be banned.

The changes are included in a new Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, introduced to the Scottish parliament this week. If passed in its current form the Bill would make several changes to the current alcohol licensing regime. It would also introduce new licensing requirements for owners of air weapons, private hire car operators and scrap metal dealers.

"The 'fit and proper' test was abolished in 2009, but the police have been campaigning ever since to have it reinstated," said licensing law expert Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"In deciding whether or not there is 'over-provision' in a particular area, licensing boards will now be able to take into account licensed hours as well as capacity. As anticipated, lap-dancing clubs and other sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) are to have a separate licensing regime, and councils can opt to have none in their area," she said.

The 'fit and proper' test for licensees allows police to present more information to licensing boards about applicants than is currently the case. Information currently must be restricted to that relating to serious and organised crime. The new test is narrower in scope than the earlier regime as it restricts any assessment of the licence holder or applicant's 'fitness' to "with regard to the five licensing objectives". These are prevention of crime and disorder, securing public safety, preventing public nuisance, protecting and improving public health and protecting children from harm. The new Bill would also extend the fifth objective to cover the protection of 'young people' aged 16 and 17 as well as of children.

The creation of new offences of giving, or making available, alcohol to a child or young person for consumption in a public place as proposed by the Bill would close the current 'loophole' which permits adults to buy alcohol for those under 18 if the alcohol is consumed outside of licensed premises. The new offence would exclude places of religious worship from the definition of 'public place', and would not affect the consumption of alcohol by children and young people in the home.

The new Bill would also introduce a new processing deadline and 'deemed grant' provision to the licensing application process. Licensing boards would have nine months to deal with an application before it is deemed granted with no additional local conditions, running from the date of acknowledgement of a completed application. The period by which licenses issued under the 'civic' licensing regime, for example to taxi drivers or late night catering, would be deemed granted would be extended from the current six months to nine months under the Bill.

The Bill also contains provisions for the creation of Civic Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs), a new role which would have many of the same powers as a Licensing Standards Officer under the alcohol licensing regime. The civic LSO would have the same powers as an LSO to require information, including powers of entry; to supervise compliance and issue notices for non-compliance; and carry out mediation.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said that the aim of the new proposals was "to support and encourage legitimate businesses whilst protecting public health and safety and empowering our communities".

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