Publicans may sue over leases

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Courage has been refused permission to appeal to the Lords over a judgment made in December that it was wrong to insist that Tiny Little, a Norwich publican, had to replace his 10-year lease agreement with an Inntrepreneur lease for 20 years.

The decision by the Appeals Committee of the House of Lords may lead to hundreds of other publicans taking legal action, and will probably hamper Scottish & Newcastle Breweries' on-going negotiations to buy Courage, the second-largest brewer in the UK and owned by Australia's Foster's Brewing.

Inntrepreneur, the pub company owned by Courage and Grand Metropolitan, is also involved in the Office of Fair Trading's inquiry into beer supply prices, another issue that has prompted litigation from publicans. A spokesman for Courage said yesterday that there were only a handful of pub tenants, who were previously tied on 10-year agreements. The publican's camp, however, said that "hundreds" would now sue Courage.

Julian Maitland-Walker, a solicitor with Charles Russell who represents Mr Little and who is overseeing 400 other Inntrepreneur cases, said: "The court decision was right, both legally and morally, in stopping Courage from using a technicality to try to prevent tenants from exercising a contractual right.

"This decision was not only an important victory for Mr Little, but also for those many ex-Courage five-plus-five [10-year leases] who lost their opportunity for a second five-year term or were forced to enter into 20- year leases on disadvantageous terms as a result of Courage's action."