by Stephen McGowan, partner and head of licensing (Scotland) at law firm TLT LLP

As David Leask wrote in 'The "last drinks" laws reducing violence in Australia' (The Herald, 3 January), there is a global debate about the link between opening hours for licensed premises, health and violence or anti-social behaviour.

As with all good debates, there is no straight answer and that is why the law has enshrined not one but five equally weighted principles in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 to help licensing boards make decisions about licensing applications.

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The Sydney "last drinks" laws have been around for some time, and are not free of criticism. In fact, last year the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, described the laws as a "sledgehammer" that did not address the real problems of alcohol harm.

READ MORE: The "last drinks" laws reducing violence in Australia

In Scotland, later opening hours have been granted with desirable results. In Fife, a pilot scheme saw the licensing board extend a club's opening hours to 4am following a submission from the operators that this would actually benefit the licensing objectives. At the end of the six-month trial, Police Scotland confirmed that anti-social behaviour and alcohol related incidents had dropped significantly notwithstanding the later closing time. Patrons appeared to consume alcohol more sensibly over the longer period and dispersal-related noise was staggered.

Other examples like this also exist – in Glasgow, the Borders, the Highlands and elsewhere. The issue here is one of sensible night time management and that does not necessarily mean further restriction or prohibition, although in some cases it may. A night time economy can flourish while reducing harms when steps are taken based on a proportionate and level-headed basis.

READ MORE: The "last drinks" laws reducing violence in Australia

If the availability of alcohol was inexorably linked to harm then no new licence would ever be granted and no licence would ever be extended. That is not what the Licensing Act is designed to achieve and nor, in my view, is it desirable. The Licensing Act is not a prohibitionist Act. The correct approach still is, and should remain, that each licensing board conducts a proportionate and evidence-based analysis of what hours may be sensible for a local area in terms of its policy, and then treats every case on its own merits with regards to that policy. This may mean a restriction or rejection, but it could also mean new or later opening times.

Stephen McGowan is partner and head of licensing (Scotland) at law firm TLT LLP