Edinburgh strip club ban: Club owners and lap dancers win court battle to overturn 'ban'

Judge ruled the strip club ‘ban’ would force venues to shut
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Strip clubs in Edinburgh will now remain open after the council’s decision to ban the venues was found by a judge to be unlawful.

A crowd-funded judicial review launched by strip clubs to challenge Edinburgh council’s nil cap was heard in court at the beginning of December. The council claimed they could still award licences on adult entertainment venues on a discretionary basis. But lawyers for the Burke and Hare, the Western Bar and Diamond Dolls argued that the policy meant that their venues would be forced to close.

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The United Sex Workers Union supported the court challenge warning the move would put jobs of more than 100 workers at risk.

Dancers union welcomed the judicial review decisionDancers union welcomed the judicial review decision
Dancers union welcomed the judicial review decision

Following the hearing, a judge has ruled that the policy to cap the number of sexual entertainment venues at zero – effectively shutting down the Capital's four lap dancing bars - is unlawful.

In his ruling published on Friday, Lord Richardson stated that ultimately the nil cap could lead to the closure of the sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) if they were refused a licence by the licensing sub-committee because of the presumption of zero cap on SEVs.

It was concluded that the committee was “wrongly advised” that setting a cap at zero would not constitute a ban on SEVs and this was an “error in law”.

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Lord Richardson said: “It follows that the respondent’s officials erred in the advice that was given to the Regulatory Committee. That Committee was wrongly advised that in the event that it made a nil determination.. that would not constitute a ban on SEVs.” He added that the nil cap policy statement is “fundamentally inconsistent with the true legal effect of the nil determination” and would result in a ban.

Club operators and the union welcomed the decision, which will force the council to scrap the ‘nil cap’ and review it’s policy. Performers had argued the nil cap would leave them struggling to pay bills or afford childcare and that it was a violation of their human rights.

During the hearing Lord Richardson heard from the union that it had been a difficult time for members since councillors narrowly voted for the ‘nil cap’. It said the news had caused “a lot of stress” to many worried about finding new employment or having to work in unsafe, unregulated environments.

Audrey, a spokesperson for United Sex Workers Union told the Evening News: "After months of uncertainty and many sleepless nights for our members in Edinburgh, we are incredibly pleased the ruling of the judicial review has found Edinburgh council’s decision to implement a nil-cap policy is unlawful.

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“Not only is this a huge win for strippers in Edinburgh, who are no longer facing the prospect of forced mass-unemployment in the middle of a recession, but for the working rights of strippers across the United Kingdom. Nil-caps are a violent, anti-worker policy that removes strippers access to both safe workplaces, rights and their ability to improve their own working conditions. Now they have been found unlawful, we hope this puts an end to local council’s enacting strip club bans and closing down our places of work.

“After an arduous battle to even be let into the judicial review, we are so pleased to have been able to represent our members, and ensure their voices were heard. Throughout what has been a hostile and difficult process, the strippers in Edinburgh remained brave and resilient, and we are so proud of all of them for fighting for their rights.”

Steve MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Club Operators Action Group said: “The Club Operators Action Group would like to take this opportunity to thank the court and our legal team. The decision is, of course, very welcomed.

“We look forward to working with the Regulatory Committee and the Licensing Board in continuing to provide a proven safe working environment for all our staff members, customers and particularly our performers. Importantly, we also acknowledge the support of the USW Union - our partners in this action - as well as the continued support of the police and the LSO in assisting the clubs in maintaining the licencing objectives.”

Following the backlash from workers the council’s regulatory committee has backed a consultation to allow the council to review the policy again.

Edinburgh council has been contacted for comment.

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