National Pubwatch is a voluntary organisation set up to support existing Pubwatches and encourage the creation of new Pubwatch schemes, with the aim of achieving a safer social drinking environment in all licensed premises throughout the UK. A Pubwatch scheme is a voluntary and cost effective way for licensees within a specific geographic area to reduce crime and share information and best practice on issues directly related to their pubs and bars. Running a Pubwatch is relatively easy, low cost, flexible to the needs to individual areas and entirely voluntary in nature.

Whilst National Pubwatch recognises pub operators are busy people there is a temptation to hand responsibility to others by joining an external partnership scheme. However, the consequences of doing so could actually cost money in the long term and compromise legality and independence. Pub operators have the skills to run a simple and cost effective scheme such as a Pubwatch, and National Pubwatch offers free advice and support for licensees and managers. Voluntary Pubwatches operate across the country, and have a proven record of effectiveness that benefits both pubs and the local communities in which they are based.

National Pubwatch recognises that there are a number of different partnership models operating in various areas which licensees are often approached to support. In deciding whether to join a partnership you need to consider if it meets your specific needs. Whilst a business crime partnership for example might be perfectly right for a retail environment, the unique challenges faced by pubs do not always make these schemes the most appropriate in terms of its focus, commitment and cost. Before a decision is made to whether to join such a scheme instead of setting up or joining an existing Pubwatch scheme, the following points should be taken into consideration:

Pubwatches are voluntary in nature

An active membership of a Pubwatch scheme can be a valuable way to demonstrate commitment to promoting the four licensing objectives under the Licensing Act 2003. Some Local Authorities have tried to impose Pubwatch membership as a condition of licence. However this contravenes the basic principle that Pubwatch has always been a voluntary activity, engaged in by operators of licensed premises primarily for their own benefit which also results in a positive outcome for the wider community.

Pubwatches make their own decisions

Licensees have for many years enjoyed the common law right to refuse entry to anyone they wish as long as do not breach discrimination laws. This is a powerful tool for a Pubwatch to ban troublemakers from their scheme, but as with any power it should be used responsibly. Pubwatch schemes are not subject to Human Rights legislation but public authorities such as the police are. That’s why the police and other public bodies should only attend Pubwatch meetings in a liaison capacity to share intelligence and trends. They should not be involved in the management of a scheme or the banning processes which could possibly put the Pubwatch at risk of a legal challenge.

It is our view that any ‘partnership’ which bans an individual should be mindful of the risk of legal challenge. In a recent High Court hearing a claimant tried to overturn a Pubwatch ban and seek damages against the licensee members. In ruling against the claimant in the Pubwatches favour the judge noted that he would not expect that the operations of a Pubwatch scheme would be open to judicial review if the role of the Police and other public bodies was limited to that of advice and support, as recommended by the ‘Good Practice Guide’ issued by National Pubwatch.

Pubwatches are specifically on-trade focussed

The problems associated with alcohol related violence and the night time economy will be fundamentally different to those affecting the retail sector. Whilst there may be common themes such as information sharing and communication the focus of a night time crime reduction strategy will be primarily aimed at individuals who are at risk of self harm or a threat to customers and staff due to the misuse of drugs or alcohol, rather than acquisitive crime such as shoplifting. Pubwatch members have the ability to manage their own schemes to ensure that their money and effort is focused on issues that cause them the greatest problem and therefore arrive at the most effective solutions tailored to their pub businesses and the local area.