Licensing Issues

It is unlikely that in normal circumstances a licence would be required to cover activities at a Speakers’ Corner. However, there are some, most likely organised, events which might require one. SCT is grateful to Peter Young, Clerk of Lichfield City Council, for permission to reproduce this note which is based on the advice he drafted for the Lichfield Speakers’ Corner Committee.

Legal Background

The Licensing Act 2003 set up a new single system of premises licences.  A licence is required whenever one or more of the following is provided

  • Regulated Entertainment (see below)
  • Sale of alcohol
  • Supply of Late Night Refreshment (after 11.00 pm)

The licensing system is designed to meet the four licensing objectives which are:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • Prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm

A licence can be obtained in one of two ways:

  • A Premises Licence, which is subject to an annual fee
  • A Temporary Event Notice (TEN) for “one-off” events
Does this apply to Speakers’ Corners?

In practice the only activities at Speakers’ Corner that are likely to require licensing are those involving regulated entertainment.  Regulated entertainment is performed in front of a live audience or spectators for the purpose of entertaining that audience.   Public speaking is not in itself classed as regulated entertainment, but other activities held at Speakers’ Corner could be classed as regulated entertainment.   Regulated entertainment under the 2003 Act includes:

1        Plays
Any performance or rehearsal of any dramatic piece, whether scripted or improvised.

2       Live and recorded music or dance performances

This includes vocal or instrumental music and applies to amplified and unamplified music.  But music that is simply incidental to another activity does not in itself need a licence;  and if music, singing or dancing is spontaneous, no licence is needed (but see point 7 below).

3       Entertainment of a similar description to 2 above

e.g. synthesized electronic instruments which may not be ‘live’ or recorded.

4       Films

This is very broad and even includes video footage used as a backdrop to other entertainment.

5       Any indoor sporting event

Not applicable to Speakers’ Corner.

6       A boxing match or a wrestling entertainment

Not likely to be applicable to Speakers’ Corner.

7       Provision of entertainment facilities

Provision of entertainment facilities, where they are provided for members of the public, or with a view to profit.  This includes any facilities provided for people to take part in making music, dancing etc – e.g. where the ‘audience’ provides the ‘entertainment’ but facilities are provided for this purpose.


Some forms of entertainment are exempt from requiring a licence, e.g. Morris Dancing or entertainment when part of a religious meeting or service.   Stand–up comedy, while not specifically exempt, is also held not to be “regulated entertainment” for the purposes of the Act.

If a Licence is Required

It is unlikely that that any spontaneous event would need a licence, but an event that was advertised and pre-planned and involved licensable activities would in which case there are three options.

A Temporary Event Notice (TEN)

This could be applied for when needed, although there would be the hassle and cost of making repeated applications.  The following points should be noted that apply to TENs

  • The cost is £21 per TEN
  • There are a maximum of 12 TENs that can be granted in any one year for a particular site.
  • A named individual must apply for a TEN and that individual can only apply for a maximum of 5 TENs a year (but another individual could apply for another 5 for the same organisation).  The holder of a Personal Licence can apply for up to 50 TENS a year
  • A minimum of 10 days’ notice is required, but the application is relatively simple and (unlike a full premises licence) it is not an application for permission but a notice that an event will take place (only the Police can object to grant of a TEN).
  • A TEN can only apply for events involving fewer than 500 people.

A Premises Licence

An organisation, or an individual (over 18), can apply for a premises licence, and (unless the application includes sale of alcohol) there is no requirement for a designated premises supervisor (DPS).  But there are some practical difficulties in obtaining a full premises licence because the Speakers’ Corner site is not the ‘usual’ sort of premises for which a licence would apply, but it has to go through the standard application procedures.  As such, it requires a detailed application, a statement of how the four licensing objectives will be met, advertisement in a local newspaper (with associated costs) and payment of a fee.  The fee is based on the rateable value of the premises, and if there is no rateable value, the minimum fee applies which is an initial fee of £100, then £70 per year afterwards.  Various bodies (Fire, Police) are consulted, and objections can be made by interested parties (e.g. local residents).

A Local Authority Licence

One possible other option is to see if the local authority already has or will itself agree to obtain the premises licence. Department of Culture, Media & Sports Guidance (under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003) issued accompanying the 2003 Act is that:  

in the context of festivals and carnivals, local authorities should bear in mind their ability to seek premises licences from the licensing authority for land or buildings under public ownership within the community in their own name. This could include, for example, village greens, market squares, promenades, community halls, local authority owned art centres and similar public areas where festivals and carnivals might take place. Performers and entertainers would then have no need to obtain a licence or give a temporary event notice themselves to enable them to give performances in these places, although they would need the permission of the local authority to put on the event.

Please note that this note is intended for guidance only. It is not intended to provide legal advice on specific situations and it should not be relied on as a source of legal advice. If in doubt, Speakers’ Corner Committees and individuals or organisations using Speakers’ Corners should seek their own advice.

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