The Times (England), Dec. 3, 2002
By Stewart Tendler
Carol singers could face prosecution if they do not buy a licence to perform, lawyers studying the Government’s Licensing Bill say.
One said that even a householder who let a group sing in his front garden could face a maximum fine of £20,000 or six months in jail if local authority inspectors applied a strict reading of the Bill.
Two weeks ago the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was forced to defend the Bill after criticism that thousands of parish churches and other places of worship would need licences for concerts on their premises. Lawyers consulted by the Musicians’ Union have found other areas of the Bill that they say are open to harsh interpretations. The Bill is going through the Lords.
Christopher Hepher, an expert on licensing law, said that the problem lay in the definitions of a “performance”. One of the schedules of the Bill refers to the location where an entertainment is given as “any place”. An entertainment is defined as a performance provided “to any extent for members of the public or a section of the public”. Lawyers for the Musicians’ Union argue that this could include carol singers.
Mr Hepher said that local authority inspectors might turn a blind eye, but the Bill was supposed to bring licensing laws in to the 21st Century.
Robin Bynol, an expert on copyright consulted by the Musicians’ Union, added that the Bill had very wide definitions. He said: “I am sure they did not mean to catch carol singers but they should make changes to make it clear.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport denied that the Bill would apply to carol singers. They would not, a spokesman said, have an audience and there were no premises. Carol services, being religious services, would be exempt, he added.
Guidance would be sent to local authorities, with a warning that enforcement should not be inappropriate.