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Government to amend regulations to improve liquor licensing regulatory regime

     The Government proposes to introduce to the Legislative Council (LegCo) the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) (Amendment) Regulation 2015 (Liquor Regulation) and the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor Licences) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulation 2015 (Fees Regulation) to adjust the maximum validity period of a liquor licence and the corresponding fee, as well as to facilitate electronic submission of applications including those for issue or renewal of liquor licence, with a view to further improving the liquor licensing regulatory regime.

     A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said today (January 28) that the liquor licensing system in Hong Kong regulates the sale or supply of liquor for consumption on the premises. The Liquor Licensing Board (LLB) established under the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) Regulations (Cap. 109B) has to balance the interests of legitimate commercial activities and those of the neighbourhood in considering liquor licence applications.

     The spokesman said, "In recent years, the number of bars has proliferated and many of them are 'upstairs bars' accommodated at the upper floors of multi-storey domestic/commercial buildings. There has been great public concern about crime, nuisance and the potential fire danger that may be brought about by these commercial premises. At the same time, there are calls from the trade to relax the regulatory regime to nurture a business-friendly environment.

     "The Government conducted a public consultation in 2011 and implemented a number of administrative measures subsequently to improve the regulatory regime. For instance, since an overwhelming majority of liquor-licensed premises have restaurant licences, the Government has stipulated clearly in the licensing conditions that restaurant licensees must comply with fire safety requirements at all times. In addition, the LLB has revamped its procedures for dealing with applications for renewal or transfer of liquor licence, aiming to provide added room for sensitive handling of voices from the neighbourhood. A set of guidelines has also been published by the LLB, capturing the factors that are taken into account when assessing liquor licence applications and highlighting the vetting that applications from 'upstairs bars' would have to go through, as well as the more stringent conditions that the LLB may impose including those relating to capacity limit and measures to abate noise nuisance for premises."

     Apart from the administrative measures that have been implemented, the Government also proposes to amend the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) Regulations for the implementation of other measures. The Liquor Regulation proposes to extend the maximum validity period of a liquor licence from one year to two years, so that the LLB would have greater flexibility in granting liquor licences of a longer duration in meritorious cases. This proposal could reduce the LLB's workload in the processing of straightforward licence renewal cases and allow the LLB to focus its attention on handling new applications and contested licence renewal applications. While it is ultimately for the LLB to determine the exact licence period to be granted, it is expected that only cases with a good track record for at least two consecutive years immediately before the liquor licence renewal application (in other words, continuously good performance) would be considered favourably by the LLB for licence renewal by two years. In line with the current practice, when an application for licence renewal draws objections or adverse comments, a licence period shorter than the full term may be given as the LLB deems fit, with additional licensing conditions imposed where appropriate. Ancillary to extending the licence duration to two years, the Government proposes setting the fee for a licence that is valid for more than one year at a level which is 1.5 times higher than the fee prescribed for a one-year licence. The fees for liquor licences are set out in the Fees Regulation.

     To address the concerns that it is possible for the performance of the licensed premises to deteriorate after the granting of a two-year licence, the Government is formulating, in consultation with the LLB, a mid-term review mechanism for such licences.

     In addition, the Liquor Regulation proposes that electronic submission of applications for the issue, renewal, transfer or amendment of liquor licences should be allowed if accompanied by a password assigned or approved by the LLB other than a digital signature.  

     The Liquor Regulation and the Fees Regulation will be published in the Gazette on January 30 and tabled before the LegCo on February 4. Subject to vetting by the LegCo, the amendment regulations will come into operation on August 3.

Ends/Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Issued at HKT 17:55


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