Two recent decisions have rejected the contentions made by licensee Steven Shipley of the higher courts' interpretation of provisions in s77 of the Licensing Act 1964 concerning Special Hours Certificates (SHC).

At the request of the police, Cannock Licensing Justices applied Chief Constable of West Midlands v Aubrey Marsden to Shipley's application for an SHC and imposed both a finish time and a 7pm start time. The Crown Court at Stafford concurred.

Shipley took his challenge to the Divisional Court but Mr Justice Keene not only upheld the justices' entitlement to impose start times but confirmed the necessity for the sale of drink to be ancillary to music and dancing.

Shipley took this refusal to the Court of Appeal, where he fared no better. In R v Stafford Crown Court ex parte Shipley, Lord Justice Henry confirmed the wholly different character of the SHC regime. Lord Justice Simon Brown said that 'an SHC should not be granted to an ordinary public house so as to turn it into a late-night pub'.

Meanwhile, Shipley obtained a second SHC from the Cannock Justices an application which the police opposed. While the Cannock Justices granted another one it was identical to the first and so had to be taken up to the Crown Court on Appeal to get an 11am start time instead. This was the SHC Shipley decided to activate for trading, while his first was en route to the Court of Appeal. In R v Stafford Crown Court ex parte Chief Constable of Staffordshire, the Chief Constable successfully sought judicial review of this second grant.

These cases give fundamental guidance on the real nature of a SHC. It is not a 'bolt-on extra' to be taken up by public houses after the normal permitted hours are over, but a distinctive regime where, on designated days chosen for its operation, the sale of drink is merely an ancillary to music and dancing, and/or substantial refreshment.

This characteristic, reinforced by the start times and coupled with the obligation to apply it on 50 out of 52 weeks, means it is not suitable for those licensed traders who would have been reliant on the interpretations unsuccessfully presented on behalf of Shipley.

Shipley is petitioning the House of Lords directly for leave to appeal which means further developments cannot be ruled out.