The Court of Appeal (CoA) has ruled that Westminster City Council charged excessive licensing fees to Soho sex shop owners.
Cornerstone Barristers’ Philip Kolvin QC was instructed by Gosschalks partner Stephen Dillon to fight the appeal over Westminster’s decision to hand costs for prosecuting unlicensed vendors to the Soho shops by adding 10 per cent to their licence fee.
Having lost the case at the High Court Westminster instructed Landmark Chambers’ Nathalie Lieven QC to take the case to the CoA.
The council had argued that it was entitled to charge the shops an annual fee of £29,102 despite an EU directive implemented in 2009 that prevented licensing authorities from charging fees going beyond the actual costs of the authorisation process.
The shops had been charged an increased fee since 2005 and argued that around 10 per cent of the cost was charged illegally.
Lieven argued that if licensing bodies could not recover the costs of enforcement from fees charged to authorised practitioners, there would be no realistic and reliable means of recovering such costs. This, she contended, would have consequences for other regulators looking to recover the costs of prosecution from those they policed.
Rejecting the argument the ruling Lord Justice Beatson, who shared the bench with the Master of the Rolls (MR) Lord Dyson and Lady Justice Black, stated: “I am not satisfied that the consequentialist arguments about the effect on other regulated areas advanced by the Council in support of its construction have been made out.”
The CoA rejected the appeal and ordered Westminster City Council to recalculate fees going back to 2004 because of deficiencies in its procedures for determining fees.
The council has also been told to pay the respondents’ costs.
For the appellant Westminster City Council
Landmark Chambers’ Nathalie Lieven QC and Jacqueline Lean instructed directly
For the respondents (1) Timothy Martin Hemming (trading as Simply Pleasure Ltd); (2) James Alan Poulton (trading as Soho Original Book); (3) Harmony Ltd; (4) Gatisle Limited (trading as Janus); (5) Winart Publications Ltd; (6) Darker Enterprises Ltd; (7) Swish Publications Ltd
Cornerstone Barristers’ Philip Kolvin QC instructed by Gosschalks partner Stephen Dillon