A secret panel of councillors held a hearing behind closed doors today that could strip a Brighton pub of its licence and throw people out of their jobs.
Sussex Police asked a Brighton and Hove City Council licensing panel to hold a hearing in private – and the panel agreed.
And despite the laws governing open justice, the council also withheld 200 pages of evidence, some relating to a criminal case in which the defendant has already been convicted, having pleaded guilty.
In other instances, the council and police have redacted details that might prejudice an active court case although, in this case, guilt has been admitted.
The police asked the council to review the premises licence for Molly Malone’s, in West Street, Brighton, saying that the premises were associated with serious disorder.
The review could lead to the pub’s licence being modified, suspended or revoked after a violent incident on Tuesday 6 July.
And though the secret hearing ended earlier today (Tuesday 3 August), the council has not yet made public the decision reached by the panel.
Yet details of the criminal case were made public at Brighton Magistrates’ Court last month when a Hove teenager, whose identity is protected by law, admitted carrying out a violent attack.
Sussex Police barrister Peter Savill said that other elements of the case were still active, although he did not make clear publicly exactly what they might be.
Mr Savill said: “There is an outstanding criminal matter. It is appropriate in the interests of justice for this hearing to take place in private so there is no question of jeopardising the ongoing criminal proceedings.
“I recognise that is difficult but that incident is written through the whole application for review and it may simply be more straightforward for the matter to be determined in private because that incident is at the forefront of the application.”
Barrister Sarah Clover, for Indigo Leisure, the owner of Molly Malone’s, said: “The default is for licensing hearings to be heard in public. I don’t see an unusual reason in this case for it not to be held in public.”
Green councillor Lizzie Deane, who chaired the panel, initially suggested splitting the hearing, so that matters were discussed in private only when absolutely essential – in line with local government law.
She said: “I am always very reluctant to hold these things in closed session unless absolutely necessary in the public interest.”
Councillor Deane was also concerned that the case involved a teenager whose identity could not be revealed because of a legal requirement.
Independent councillor Kate Knight said that she would like transparency but, mindful of what the police barrister described as an active case, she was persuaded to sit in secret session.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson said: “I want to see this go through as smoothly as possible. I don’t want to see it disjointed by going into public and out of public into private session.
“I would rather have the whole session either public or private – and it’s very clear from the information we have that we can’t do it all in public so I would follow the police recommendation.”
The council said: “The decision to go to part 2 (confidential session) was taken in accordance with the provisions in the Licensing Act Hearings Regulations 2005 and the council’s constitution.
“The panel considered whether to hear the case in public or go to part 2 (closed session) and the necessary resolution was passed in accordance with legal requirements before the panel went to the private session.
“The panel took into account the nature and sensitivities of the case, advice from the police and other relevant matters before coming to a decision on the basis of an assessment on the balance of public interest.”
The Licensing Act 2003 (Hearings) Regulations 2005 which govern the conduct of a licensing review state: “The hearing shall take place in public.
“The licensing authority may exclude the public from all or part of a hearing where it considers that the public interest in so doing outweighs the public interest in the hearing, or that part of the hearing, taking place in public.”
But a leading judgment in matters of open justice – known as the Guardian v Westminster Magistrates’ Court – states: “In a democracy, where power depends on the consent of the people governed, the answer must lie in the transparency of the legal process.
“The requirements of open justice apply to all tribunals exercising the judicial power of the state.”
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