Review of McGowan on Licensing Law

McGowan on Alcohol Licensing in Scotland 

Stephen J McGowan

ISBN: 978-1474473910

McGowan on Alcohol Licensing Law in ScotlandWearing another hat I write a regular blog on a website. I have just realised that it is seven years since I started. That feels like half a lifetime away. 2014 was also the year when Stephen McGowan started work on this important volume. Combining authorship with running a busy licensing department and appearing at boards up and down the country is bordering on the superhuman.

The book is as comprehensive as it is readable. Think about a knotty point of licensing law and you will find it analysed here. When does a licence cease to exist? What is the correlation between a club's constitution and its premises licence? Is there a duty to trade? Students of the history of licensing law will be in their element. Not only is it neatly summarised in the opening chapter, but the whole grisly story of how the current legislation came to be is also set out in one of the appendices.

The writing style is very much the author's own. Those who know him can recognise his voice coming through, and the book is peppered with tales from the trenches, many of which resonate with old stagers. There is a great deal of humour. I laughed out loud at one section, and enjoyed the distinctive turn of phrase throughout. Looking at the vexed question (now pretty much resolved, I think) as to whether there is a duty to trade, he writes, “of all the licensing hobgoblins, this is a particularly difficult imp to banish”. Nor is he slow to criticise our lawmakers. It is hard enough for experienced licensing practitioners to keep up with the myriad of changes – Lord knows how the average licensee copes.

Anyone who is instructed to draft an operating plan should carefully study chapter 8, which highlights so many of the potential pitfalls for the unwary. On the other hand, anyone looking for help in drafting an appeal will fail to find much. I think this is the only criticism I could level at a phenomenal piece of work. It probably reflects the ultra-specialist nature of the law these days. Those of us who draft and plead our own appeals are a dying breed.

Who is the book for? Well, as the author says in the preface, “for licensing practitioners of all sorts… as well as the good people of the licensed trade”. He continues: “I have tried to make the style fluid, the language accessible and with a dash of personality wherever possible whilst relaying anecdotes from 'the front'.”

He has certainly succeeded, tongue often in cheek. Take the example of when it could be said without doubt that premises had ceased to be used for the sale of alcohol. Perhaps a former pub has been turned into a bank, he suggests mischievously. All good stuff, though how well it will be received when cited in the Court of Session may be a different matter. Senators of the College tend to be a po-faced lot, and I'd love to see the reaction of the judge who, it is revealed, bought a drum kit from the author.

I have produced a number of small publications, a fraction of the size of this volume. The work involved is enormous, and when you've written the last page it is just beginning. Proof reading and editing are enough to drive a saint to despair. I had the pleasure of reading the entire original manuscript. Stephen McGowan and his editors (not forgetting Niall Hassard, who co-wrote chapter 18) are to be congratulated, not just for the amount of effort in producing the original, but for converting what was a rough diamond into a polished gem.

Tom Johnston

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