The retail sale of alcohol in the UK cannot be undertaken without a licence. These are called Justice's Licences and they are granted to a person so that they may sell intoxicating liquor on a named premises (ie a specific public house, club or off licence). They are granted by a licensing committee which is made up of Justices of the Peace acting within a designated area.

Licensing Committees met no less than five times a year (in London there is one meeting every day due to the number of licensed premises) at the local Magistrates' Court. The main meeting is held at the beginning of February each year and is called the General Annual Licensing Meeting (or the "Brewster Sessions"). Once every three years the General Annual Licensing Meeting (GALM) renews (or refuses to renew) all licenses within the area, the next year this is due is 2004. All other meetings of the Licensing Committee are called "Transfer Sessions".

At any meeting of the Licensing Committee application may be made for

  • new licences (for new premises)
  • the transfer of an existing licence (from the old licensee to the new - certain conditions must be met)
  • the addition of prospective licensees
  • alterations to licensed premises (it is illegal to alter the infrastructure of any licenced premises without prior permission of the Committee)
  • Restriction Orders (the Licensing Justices have the power to force the closure of a licensed premises for all or part of the period between 2:30 and 5 on weekdays and 3 and 7 on Sundays and Good Friday)
  • Childrens Certificates (allowing under 14s into the bar accompanied by an adult - certain conditions must be met)
  • regular extensions of hours (past normal permitted hours).
  • Revocation of licences (except at the triannual GALM where the Licensing Committee may achieve the same effect by not renewing the licence)
The penalty for selling alcohol without a licence is inprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of up to £2,500. A further violation may lead to disqualification from holding a licence for a specified period of time.