Sexual Entertainment Venues Policy Overturned Due to Equality Concerns


Official decisions can have a serious impact on people’s lives, but they are subject to close judicial scrutiny. In a case on point, the High Court overturned a local authority’s policy concerning sexual entertainment venues (SEVs).

Following two consultation exercises, responses to which were mostly unfavourable, the council nevertheless adopted a policy that imposed no cap on the number of SEVs in its area. The policy further stated that established SEVs would enjoy a presumption that their licences would be annually renewed.

Many consultees raised sexual equality-based (SEB) concerns. They included that the presence of SEVs has a negative effect on attitudes towards, and the treatment by men of, women and girls by, amongst other things, contributing to a culture in which women and girls are objectified, commodified, exploited, harassed, discriminated against and subjected to sex-based violence.

Challenging the policy by way of judicial review, a local woman who had survived domestic and sexual abuse argued that the council unlawfully failed to have regard to the clearly expressed SEB concerns, which she contended had been dismissed as personal, moralistic objections that should not be taken into account.

Ruling on the matter, the Court acknowledged that objections based solely on moral grounds could legitimately be excluded from consideration or given less weight. On a cursory examination of consultation responses, however, only a small proportion of responses that cited SEB concerns could legitimately be described as falling into that category.

Whilst the consultation exercises were otherwise diligently conducted, the council had consistently downplayed or sidelined SEB concerns, failing to give them conscientious consideration before reaching a final decision. The evidence also indicated a failure to have rigorous regard to the public sector equality duty enshrined in Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

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