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High court overrules Bournemouth’s unlimited strip club policy Published Date: 09/02/2023

The High Court has allowed a claim for judicial review brought against a local authority’s decision to impose no limit on the number of strip clubs it would license.

In CDE, R (On the Application Of) v Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council [2023] EWHC 194 (Admin) (03 February 2023), the Claimant sought a Judicial Review of the Defendant Council's decision of 9 November 2021 ("the Decision") to adopt a new Sexual Establishment Policy ("the Policy"). The Policy had two features which are relevant to the Claimant's challenge: the first was a policy to impose no cap on the number of Sexual Entertainment Venue ("SEV") licences that may be granted to establishments in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole ("BCP") areas ("the No Cap Policy" or "the NCP"); the second was a policy that those SEVs already licensed to operate in BCP enjoy a presumption in favour of annual renewal of their licence for the duration of the Policy ("the Acquired Rights Policy" or "the ARP"). The Defendant conducted two consultation exercises in respect of the Policy.

The majority of responses were unfavourable. Many of these responses raised concerns that the presence of SEVs has a negative effect on attitudes towards, and the treatment by men of, women and girls, by, amongst other things, contributing to a culture in which women and girls are objectified, commodified, exploited, harassed, discriminated against and subject to sex-based violence. These concerns are referred to, collectively, as "sex equality-based concerns" or "SEB concerns".

The three grounds on which the Claimant was granted permission were as follows:

(i) Ground 1 – The Defendant has failed to take into account consultees' objections to the Policy, and, in particular, in declining to have regard to the SEB concerns raised by many such consultees. The Claimant maintains that the Defendant was required to take these concerns into account, and that its grounds for not doing so, namely that these were deemed to be "moralistic" grounds or "in principle" objections to SEVs outside the scope of the Defendant's consideration, were erroneous in law.

(ii) Ground 2 – Breach of the PSED and/or failure of adequate inquiry and/or failure to take into account relevant considerations. The Claimant contends that the Defendant failed to have due regard to mandatory considerations under the PSED and failed to adopt the requisite approach to the relevant statutory criteria with the necessary rigour or to take steps to inform itself properly of equalities implications before reaching the Decision.

(iii) Ground 3 – The effect of the ARP, whereby the Existing Licensees will be granted a renewal of their SEV licences so long as there has been no material change in the character of the locality and unless there are any objections, amounts to an unlawful fetter on the Defendant's discretion and/or amounts to a "rubber stamping" of a renewal contrary to the statutory requirement to review the licence each year.

Choudhury J, for the extensive reasons outlined in the judgment, ruled that:

(i) Grounds 1 and 2 of the claim succeed.

(ii) Ground 3 fails and is dismissed.