Westminster council yesterday launched a legal challenge against a European Union directive which prevents licence fees paid by owners of legitimate sex shops being used for enforcement against illegal shops.
Policing of unlicenced sex shops was covered by UK laws but the council says these are being overridden by the EU legislation, and could lead to an increase in illegal trade — an inherent problem in that borough in particular.
The argument, as is often the case in law, hinges around interpretation of the EU directive. Westminster's legal counsel argues that the High Court misinterpreted it in saying that Westminster council cannot recover enforcement costs through licence fees from legitimate shops. We're not talking peanuts here either — fees have been quoted as '£29,102 per annum, per shop'.
The sex shop proprietors say the fees are 'disproportionate', and when you compare them to those for a nighclub (£1,905), you can kind of see their point. According to their legal counsel, the overwhelming part of the fee is allegedly used to cover the costs of investigating and prosecuting unlicensed shops.
Westminster's challenge is backed by 15 councils across the UK, so the implications of any decision could be far-reaching. Westminster's licensing chair, Councillor Audrey Lewis said:
"This has far wider implications for licensing and street trading regimes. It should be deeply concerning to everyone that a common sense domestic law is being overridden by EU legislation. Controlling the sex trade in UK cities should be a matter for local councils, not Brussels."
Photo by Simon-K in the Londonist Flickr pool.