Council admits equality duty failure over Spearmint Rhino licence

SHEFFIELD City Council has admitted that it failed to comply with its statutory duty to consider the impact on gender equality when it renewed a sexual entertainment venue licence for lap dancing club Spearmint Rhino.

The authority acknowledged the failure in a court statement as part of an agreement to settle a judicial review of the decision, which was taken in May 2016.

There were 70 objections to granting a new licence. They raised concerns about the club normalising the sexualisation and objectification of women, its location next to Sheffield Hallam Student Union Hub, with reports of some students feeling increasingly unsafe in the area, and the council’s obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Zero Option, which campaigns for the elimination of lap dancing clubs in Sheffield and supported the claimant in bringing the judicial review, said the council made no reference to its duty in its determination notice or minutes, and the concerns put forward were classed as “moral objections”.

Granting permission for the judicial review, Mrs Justice Jefford said: “There is no direct evidence that the defendant has had due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty (as it is required to do under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010). The decision gives no indication that it has been considered.

“Further, there is a tenable basis for the claimant’s inference that the defendant has wrongly ignored objections based on the potential impact on gender quality, treating them as moral objections and irrelevant.”

The claimant, who wishes to remain anonymous, was represented by Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn and Karon Monaghan of Matrix Chambers.

Whitfield said: “This is an important victory for my client and many others who are very concerned about the harmful impact of sex entertainment venues on women.

“The council now accepts that they were wrong to ignore the concerns raised about the sexual objectification of women and to dismiss these as ‘moral objections’. It is now clear that a local authority considering any such licence applications must look long and hard at the adverse impact on gender equality of letting such an enterprise exist at all. Otherwise, it will be acting unlawfully and will be subject to legal challenge.”