Restaurant customers are entitled to 'eating-up time'

RESTAURANT customers are entitled to eating-up time in the same way that customers in public houses have drinking-up time, two High Court judges decided yesterday.

Mr Justice Rougier, sitting with Lord Justice Watkins, ruled that magistrates erred in law when they convicted Anwar Amin, joint holder of a licence for the Dhaka tandoori restaurant, in Southampton, Hampshire, of staying open too late.

The city's magistrates fined him pounds 100 in June 1991 for contravening a condition of his late-night licence which prevented him from staying open between 3am and 5am.

Mr Amin admitted that about 30 people were still eating at 3.45am on a Sunday in November 1990, when two police officers arrived, but he said that diners were simply finishing their meals. And he argued that although the officers could get in through an unlocked door, it did not necessarily mean the restaurant was being kept open within the meaning of the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969.

Magistrates had decided that he was guilty of an offence because the officers could get into the restaurant without hindrance.

Allowing the appeal against the conviction, the judges said that if the magistrates' interpretation of the law was correct it would place restaurant owners in 'an impossible situation' and mean that all customers had to be out by closing time.