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Supreme Court Rules on Sex Shop Licensing Fee
In a case which could have a significant effect on local authority licensing regimes, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is lawful for part of the licensing fee imposed on sex shops to be used to fund enforcement. The judgement relates to a long running case between Simply Pleasures Ltd and Westminster City Council.
In 2011, Westminster required applicants for sex shop licences to pay £26,435 of a £29,435 application towards the cost of administering and enforcing the licensing regime, with the remaining sum, £2,667, allocated to the processing of the application. The larger part of the fee was refundable if the application was turned down. The company appealed on the grounds that the local authority had set an unlawful fee pointing to regulation 18(4) of the Provision of Services Regulation 2009 which states that charges shall be “reasonable and proportionate.” An original High Court ruling upheld the appeal but that decision has now been reversed in part by the Supreme Court with the matter of whether it is lawful to charge the larger refundable amount on application being referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.
Commenting on the decision, Iain Miller who represented the Law Society and the Bar Council in the case, told website Solicitors Journal, “Today’s verdict is good news for Westminster and by extension all local authorities. The Supreme Court’s decision moves the debate on so that it is not about the principle of whether you can charge for enforcement, but how you charge for it. To that extent, today’s ruling will come as a big relief to local authorities.” Local authorities are now left waiting further judgement from the ECJ before deciding on whether they will be required to change their licensing procedures.