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ESLJ Volume 4 Number 3 Articles

Bar Wars – Contesting the Night in Contemporary British Cities by Phil Hadfield

Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006. Pp. 326, £19.99 pbk (ISBN 0 19 929786 X)

This is an interesting book but its title is misleading. The author states that his field of interest is the night time economy (NTE) in British cities. This is untrue. His interest is the NTE in ‘English’ cities. Scots and Welsh cities are not considered anywhere here. This is unfortunate, particularly as regards Scotland and its unique licensing system, which could usefully have been used as a comparator.


The aim of the book is to consider the changes brought about by the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003 (the Act) and how it has influenced the contest between the key players in the NTE. These players include large trade businesses, the police, local authorities, licensing experts and those living in the vicinity of licensed premises.


The early chapters set out the scheme of the Act and its approach to regulation. Of particular importance to the author is the fact that alicence application must be granted unless there has been an objection. In effect, this limits the ability of local authorities to control the expansion of the NTE in a particular area. This ties in to a general trend of deregulation of the NTE identified by the author, brought about by the exploitation of legal loopholes and backroom negotiations and trade-offs between applicants and local authorities. This effectively led to a rapid expansion in the NTE and in turn gave rise to governance problems for the police and related agencies. In addition, rapid expansion created tensions between the large pub companies vying for market share of the NTE and local objectors. It is with these tensions that the book is principally concerned.


The central chapters go on to consider the specific problems that expansionism has created and the practical methods used by industry to deal with them. In particular the author analyses methods of social control in licensed premises and the physical aspects of control such as the design and layout of premises. Social aspects vary depending on the type of premises. ‘ Regulars’’ pubs are largely self-policing whereas others are dependent on the intervention of security and police services. This in turn highlights the importance of staff vigilance and training. The author’s argument that DJs are at the heart of social control is perhaps rather overstated and is unduly influenced by his own experience as a DJ. He does, however, make a good point in saying that the DJ can help manipulate mood in order to assist in the maintenance of control.


One might have thought that a detailed consideration of the role of the door steward would have been pertinent following the introduction of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. The Act imposes licensing and training requirements on door stewards and other private security staff. Such personnel obviously have a key role in policing the NTE. However, this may have been excluded as the author was involved in a large project specifically on the subject of door stewards, the results of which were published as a book in 2003 (Hobbs,Hadfield, Lister and Winlow (2003) Bouncers: Violence and Governance in the Night-time Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).


The author then moves to a consideration of the contest for public space. The theme here relates to the changes forced upon city centres by the influx of large brand premises and how the dynamic of the area is altered. The problems this creates for the police are mentioned, such as (for example) the volume of people on the streets, which renders it impossible for the police to arrest every offender. As a result a perhaps unduly lenient attitude is adopted. Additional problems such as noise and congestion are also identified as side effects of the expansion of town centres as drinking venues. The chapter is interspersed with anecdotal comment from police and residents in such areas. Indeed, this approach is used throughout the book, presumably to give the research an air of authenticity. However, the anecdotes are often stated verbatim in quasi-patois which is a little distracting and unnecessary. One cannot help think that such things are better left to Irvine Welsh.


The final section of the book considers the inequities of the licensing court system in England in which the author has been directly involved as an expert witness. There is little of interest in this to a legal reader. The chapters effectively set out the process of trial advocacy and the role of expert witnesses within that. The ultimate, and unsurprising, conclusions are that trials are expensive, time-consuming and adversarial and tend to favour the party with the greatest resources. They are also intimidating for inexperienced witnesses. The author therefore proposes that a continental inquisitorial system would be better. Dressing a debate that has gone on for generations between lawyers in the language of sociology seems to add little to the debate itself.


Taken as a whole, the book is well researched, well written and interesting. It is clearly aimed at a sociological audience and therefore some of the comments above are perhaps unduly critical, coming from a reader with a legal background. I did, however, find it a little disjointed. From my reading of the early chapters I formed the impression that the Act would play a more central role in the later analyses. This was not borne out and following an early outline of its main provisions, the Act was not really referenced again until the final chapter of conclusions. In addition, the methodology was relatively unfamiliar. The author employed an approach where he put himself at the heart of the action and recorded his thoughts, which form the basis for much of the book’s material. This is somewhat akin to the ‘new journalism’ of Hunter S Thomson and Tom Wolfe and, whilst entertaining at times, seems a little inappropriate in a serious academic exercise. The author does, however, acknowledge the deficiencies and merits of this approach in a chapter on methodology and leaves the reader to form his or her own views.


Overall, this book is a useful contribution to the relatively scant canon of literature on the role and importance of licensing and the NTE. It is not a legal text and is fairly critical of lawyers. As a result it forces the legal reader to reconsider some of his or her own views and prejudices when one sees the legal profession and process under scrutiny by a non-legal academic observer. For that reason alone, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in licensing law.


Alan Barron
University of Abertay, Dundee

Barron, Alan, "Bar Wars – Contesting the Night in Contemporary British Cities by Phil Hadfield", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, ISSN 1748-944X, January 2007, <>