High court overrules Bournemouth’s unlimited strip club policy

<span>Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

A council’s policy on lapdancing and strip clubs was overturned by a high court judge, after a challenge by a sexual abuse survivor who said it would have a negative impact on women’s safety.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council adopted a new policy in November 2021, which allowed an unlimited number of sexual entertainment venues in the area.

The policy also meant there would be a presumption in favour of existing venues having their licence renewed annually.

However, on Friday a judge at the high court in London ruled in favour of the woman and quashed the decision to adopt the policy, concluding the council had wrongly ignored objections raised against it by dismissing them as “moralistic”.

Mr Justice Akhlaq Choudhury said the woman – who is a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse and suffers complex post-traumatic stress disorder and who the court ordered could not be identified – was “deeply concerned” about the impact of such venues on the wellbeing and safety of women.

She believes they “contribute to the objectification of women, and to a climate in which women are routinely subjected to sexual and domestic violence, harassment and discrimination”.

She also believes the policy would lead to a rise in the number of sexual entertainment venues, resulting in an increase in risks to women’s safety and welfare and to “abusive and demeaning attitudes to women that are detrimental to relations between the sexes and to sex equality in general”.

Two consultations were held by the council before adopting the policy.

In the first it received 206 responses, 60% of which were from women, and 70% of the respondents disagreed with the policy of no cap on the number of venues.

The second consultation received 176 responses, and 76% of respondents disagreed with the policy.

During a briefing of council members in June 2021, an “equalities impact assessment” noted such venues provide employment for female dancers and that “many dancers have degrees and others use their earnings to fund education”.

It also said there was “little evidence of links to trafficking or prostitution”, but acknowledged there were suggestions that venues “normalise the objectification of women and can have an impact on women’s safety in the locality”.

The woman’s lawyers argued the council failed to take objections to the policy into account, and that its reasons for doing so – that they were “moralistic” objections to such venues and outside the scope of its considerations – were unlawful.

They also argued the council failed to take enough account of its public sector equality duties when reaching its decision.

Choudhury said: “Regrettably … the defendant has consistently downplayed and/or sidelined sex equality-based concerns which ought to have been the subject of conscientious consideration before reaching a final decision.”