In May 2020, we wrote about the Gambling Commission’s (the “Commission”) consultation on a change in approach to Regulatory Panel Reform (the “Consultation”) and our concerns about the changes proposed. The Consultation included proposals to:
- employ between four and six Adjudicators, who are legally qualified persons employed solely for the purposes of sitting on Panels;
- set the quorum for conduct of any business by the Panel as one Commissioner and one Adjudicator for matters relating to an operating licence and one Adjudicator for matters relating to a personal licence;
- enable a Panel to occasionally be asked by Commission staff to provide steers on regulatory settlement proposals / indication of an appropriate figure for a financial penalty; and
- make changes to the procedures set out in the guidance for Regulatory Panel and Licensing hearings with reference to the timescales for the service of hearing bundles, requests to submit further evidence, the process for arranging hearing dates and the process for considering additional evidence at the hearing.
The Commission’s Response
On 21 July 2021 the Commission published its consultation response to the Consultation which summarised the 22 written responses received from gambling operators, trade associations and others, including Harris Hagan. The overwhelming majority of respondents disagreed with each of the Commission’s proposals, with a key concern being that “the independence and impartiality of the Panel would be adversely affected by the proposal to use adjudicators” as outlined in our May 2020 blog.
Worryingly, despite the concerns raised by the respondents and lack of support for its proposals, the Commission confirmed that it will forge ahead with its plans, albeit in some cases, with slight amendments to the original proposal. The consultation response confirms that:
- the Commission will employ between four and six Adjudicators, who are legally qualified persons employed solely for the purposes of sitting on Panels, exactly as proposed in the consultation. The Commission addressed the concerns of impartiality in “Summary of responses – Regulatory Panel Reform: Consultation Response – Proposal 1: Use of adjudicators on regulatory panels”, saying that “it is the Commission’s view that the use of Adjudicators does not affect the impartiality of decision-making”.
- the quorum for conduct of any business by the Panel will, as envisaged in the consultation, be set at a minimum of one Commissioner and one Adjudicator for matters relating to an operating licence, however there is now a proviso that the Panel will normally comprise two Commissioners and one Adjudicator. For matters relating to a personal licence, the quorum will be just one Adjudicator;
- as set out in the consultation, the Panel may occasionally be asked by Commission staff to provide “steers” on regulatory settlement proposals and financial penalties;
- the Commission will make changes to the procedures set out in the guidance for Regulatory Panel and Licensing hearings with reference to the timescales for the service of hearing bundles, requests to submit further evidence, the process for arranging hearing dates and the process for considering additional evidence at the hearing. Additionally, the Commission has amended proposals regarding the process of arranging hearing dates in response to consultation feedback, and has amended the guidance to show that Case Management Hearings will take place before the Adjudicator sitting alone; and
- in due course, the Commission will publish an Adjudicator Governance Framework (“AGF”) as part of the Commission’s Corporate Governance Framework, to codify the role, training and operating framework of Adjudicators. This has been added following the Commission’s review of the responses. We expressed our concerns in our blog of May 2020 about the absence of an AGF, and that we considered it could go some way towards addressing independence concerns by ensuring that decisions are fair, with clear separation of the Regulatory Panel from the Gambling Commission’s Licensing, Enforcement and Legal departments, and therefore keenly await the publication of the AGF.
Timeframe for Implementation
The Commission confirmed that the changes to the affected documents (listed below) “will come into effect during 2021 to 2022 once adjudicators can be recruited. We will provide 4 weeks notice of the date of change via the Commission website, and will apply to all Regulatory and Licensing decisions/requests for escalation to Panel made after that date”.
The documents affected are:
- Corporate Governance Framework, Appendix 6 – Delegation of licensing and regulatory decisions in respect of gambling;
- Regulatory decisions: Procedures and guidance for regulatory hearings – September 2017 (PDF); and
- Licensing decisions: Procedures and guidance for licensing hearings – September 2017 (PDF).
We remain concerned that the Commission intends to make major changes which do not present a practical vision for adjudication that is consistent with good regulatory and legal practice. The Commission appears to be ignoring the concerns of respondents thereby bringing into question the entire basis of “consultation”. It is disappointing that the Commission has not actioned the legitimate issues raised by respondents of the independence and impartiality of the Regulatory Panels. These are cases where an operating licensee’s entire business is at risk, and a personal management licensee’s career is threatened. Issues of such severity and importance deserve greater respect from the regulator, if it is to be seen to act in accordance with the Regulators’ Code and for it to constitute a fair, balanced semi-judicial process, as it is intended to be.