A regular BBC favourite may be missing from screens over the coming weeks due to its failure to obey the Government's new licensing laws.

And a Birmingham lawyer is warning this should be a lesson to others.

As widely reported, Top Of The Pops has failed to obtain an appropriate entertainment licence for the filming of its weekly music programme at BBC Television centre and may face a temporary axe while the lengthy application process takes place.

Discussions are on-going with the studio's local council to settle the issue, but one leading licensing barrister believes the presence of a live studio audience means the programme may be in breach of the law.

"The fact that a studio audience is present for filming and the opportunity to attend is advertised in the programme's website means that, for the purposes of licensing, Top Of The Pops is likely to be regarded as a public event," said Sarah Clover of No5 Chambers.

"If a private function is being held that involves live music or entertainment, a premises licence is only required if a charge is being made to attend, with a view to profit.

"However, as of November last year, if Top Of The Pops is regarded as regulated entertainment for members of the public, the studio will require an appropriate licence whether money is being made or not - and this process could take months."

If the decision is made that a licence is needed for BBC Television Centre, Ms Clover suggests that a faster interim solution would be to apply for a temporary events notice.

"TENs appear to be the one remaining loophole in licensing law that is enabling venues across the country to continue to provide occasional entertainment relatively problem-free," she noted.

"These temporary licences allow venues to hold 12 events a year for a maximum of four days each and take just ten days to obtain.

"The application for a permanent premises licence, however, is more complicated and takes a bare minimum of 28 days to process. The BBC would also have to advertise their intentions, distribute notices, and may, of course, face objections to the application which can further lengthen the process by months."

Since their introduction last year, the Govern-ment's new licensing laws have caused problems for a variety of entertainment providers and the requirements and lengthy application processes have created confusion throughout the industry.

"Many people are still not aware that even for music, dancing or entertainment arranged by local charities, churches or other organisations, these costly licenses may still be required," added Ms Clover. "The penalties can be serious with a fine of up to £20,000 or six months imprisonment a possibility."