Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Tribal Gathering - Fooling The Dancers
Photo: Nick Cobbing.

Have You Got A Licence?

Tim Malyon investigates the application of licencing sanctions to parties and discovers a threat that may be bigger than the criminal law

Squall 13, Summer 1996, pg. 45.

On May 25th a small unlicensed party near Maiden Newton in Dorset was broken up mid swing. Police raided the ‘do’ using powers under the 1982 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act requiring a licence for public musical entertainment. PA and records were seized as evidence.

Inspector Smith from Swanage who seized the gear admitted to Squall that “there were no public order problems” and “we didn’t have any complaints about the noise”.

There were no arrests and the owner had given his permission for the party. If licencing charges are made, equipment and records could be held up to trial.

Neither the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJA) nor the 1986 Public Order Act were invoked. They don’t apply to indoor events - this was in a barn. But licencing sanctions are no less painful, with a maximum penalty of £20,000 or six months imprisonment or both.

On April 8th this year West Wiltshire District Council stopped a party before it had happened by taking out an injunction against the organiser, Dennis Green, forbidding him from “organising a party to which members of the public have access.” The Council claimed he needed a licence.

Squall asked Sue Ritchie of West Wiltshire District Council when a public entertainment licence is required: “The question is whether or not a member of the public can gain entrance,” she explained. If ‘members of the public’ have access, then the ‘organisers’ of a musical event need a licence from the local District or Borough Council 28 days before the event, unless the building being used is licenced, like a club or some halls. The Council can impose safety and sanitation conditions, and policing. It can also charge for the licence, £500 in West Wilts’ case for a 500-person over-nighter. If busted for no licence, “all those who take part in the provision of musical entertainment, except those who attend for the purpose of being entertained” can be liable. As the law stands, PA and lighting people as well as DJs are likely to be included under this definition, hence the seizure of records at Maiden Newton, but not MCs. But this is a deeply grey area of law.

Dennis Green insisted that his party was by invitation only, and therefore private. Ritchie disagrees “There were fliers available; we regarded that as advertising. If any ‘do’ is advertised, then it’s public.” Squall asked her specifically about the device of sending tickets to friends who pass them on to their friends and so on down the line, sometimes for free, sometimes for a nominal costs price. “Payment is not the issue,” she told us “we would still regard that as a private party. Provided people are individually invited, no licence would be required.” There’s room for play in the grey.

Not content with the District Council’s injunction Wiltshire Constabulary took out a Section 14 Public Order Act (1986) notice against Green. This can only apply to an assembly in a public place which is wholly or partly open to the air. The venue for the party was neither. The constabulary responsible for ‘The Battle of The Beanfield’ also invoked the CJA ‘rave’ sections. These apply to unlicensed events both on private and public land, but only in the open air or in buildings partly open to the air. Undeterred, police ran a 150 officer special operation the night of the banned party threatening arrests under public order legislation. “Police are trying to push back the legal frontiers of how they can interfere with public assemblies,” commented solicitor Mike Schwartz from Bindman & Partners.

Wiltshire ratepayers need have no worries about costs: this July’s Green Gathering has hiked its ticket price, from £25.00 to £37.50 to afford an expected police bill of £10,000 and that’s without even needing a licence. “We negotiated that down last year. They started at £32,000,” explained spokesperson Anne Waterhouse. “We’re not primarily a musical event, so we don’t have a licence. We just have an agreement with the police and local authorities.” People who witnessed officers in riot gear dragging ‘misbehavers’ off site last year, or the massive stop and search operation the year before that - rest assured: “The police are quite impressed by the event,” Anne added. “They have a unit on site. They’re pretty discrete. They don’t walk about at night or anything, not officially anyway.”

Two years ago Wiltshire Police wanted £50,000 in advance for a 5,000 person overnighter; the Vale of White Horse District Council wanted £5,000 for the licence. When The Exodus Collective first started parties, they tried for licences. “Telephone number size bills were put in front of us,” explained Glenn Jenkins. Exodus is no exception. Police pressure on licencing authorities has stopped attempts at licenced community parties in the Minehead area. So, outside of clubs and large commercial events, “nobody bothers with licences,” says Michelle Poole from the Advance Party. “It’s a waste of time, too expensive and too cumbersome. And the police have the last say.” So much for a government Advisory Council recommendation two years ago that: “More legal raves be encouraged by local authorities... by involving responsible organisers of raves in the process.”

Safety is crucial. But licencing can be as powerful a tool of oppression as the criminal law, and much more subtle. The Home Office has recently recommended model licencing conditions for dances such as searches and “video surveillance equipment to monitor activity” which far exceed powers under the CJA or Public Order Act. Some authorities have already gone further. Before refusing Tribal Gathering a licence Cherwell District Council stipulated that: “The organisers must demonstrate a proactive anti-drugs policy, searches on entrance and an undertaking that anyone caught carrying drugs will be handed to the police.” District Solicitor Nicholas Fardon described this condition to Squall as “a joint initiative between police and council.” You gotta giggle or gag.

Note: Case law on licencing and public order is changing fast. Contact Advance Party on 0181 450 6929 for legal advice or recommended lawyers.