In a judgement that will have dramatic repercussions for every licensing authority in the UK, and every licensed sex shop, the Court of Appeal has today rejected the appeal by Westminster City Council against last year’s High Court ruling ordering it to reduce its licensing fees. This should mean that the days of local councils charging arbitrary and exorbitant annual fees are finally at an end.
Seven licensed sex shop owners in Westminster claimed that new European laws which came into force in 2009 prevented licensing authorities from charging fees over and above the actual costs of the licensing process. And that the licensing fee imposed by Westminster City Council in Soho – at £29,102 annually, the most expensive in the UK – was ten times more than the true cost of administration.
The subsequent judicial review in the High Court last May came down in favour of the shops. With its appeal against the decision now being dismissed, Westminster City Council faces refunding the claimants the difference between the fees it charged and the fees it should have charged from 2009 to date. The council has also been ordered to pay interest at 10% above the Bank of England Base Rate and “indemnity costs” because it rejected an offer to compromise the claim on much better terms at the start of the proceedings. The cost to the council of the award, the interest and costs is likely to approach £2 million.
More on this case can be found in the June issue of ETO.