On 14 August, 2014, the High Court delivered a judgment which will be of significant interest to applicants for licences and licensing bodies alike. The judgment provides guidance on the proper, contextual, interpretation of such bodies' discretionary information-gathering powers, and on the limitations that can emerge as a result. The judgment also holds that it may be unreasonable and unlawful to refuse a licence, even where validly-sought information is not provided by an applicant, if there is a disproportion between (i) the information not provided, and (ii) the consequences for the applicant of being refused a licence.
In this case, the applicant applied to the Revenue for particular types of fuel-traders' licences.
The statutory licensing provision indicated that the applicant needed to provide information to enable the Revenue:
to specify the licensed activities and conditions regarding suitability of premises, and so on; and to establish whether the applicant had been convicted of certain offences; whether it had a current tax clearance certificate; and whether it was able to satisfy the Revenue that it, or the premises, could fulfil whatever conditions the Revenue might impose. Nevertheless, the Revenue additionally sought information and records relating to matters that were the subject of separate statutory powers to investigate tax evasion and separate requirements on a licensed applicant to retain certain records. In doing this, they relied on a power in the licensing provision to seek "...such information as they [might] reasonably require..."
The Revenue considered that an applicant was obliged to provide any information that they might reasonably require for the purpose of discharging their statutory remit generally. They warned the applicant that failure to provide any of the additional information might result in a refusal of the traders' licences, without which, the Court subsequently noted, the applicant's business would be extinguished.
The Revenue went on to refuse the licences in light of the non-provision by the applicant of the 'additional' information.
The applicant applied for judicial review to quash the refusal. Amongst other things, it claimed:
that the additional information-requirements imposed by the Revenue were beyond its powers; and that in any event, refusal of the licences was disproportionate to the non-provision of information concerned, and therefore...