Legal advice: Caught in the act

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Christmas blitz finds many pubs selling to under-18s.By's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.The second...

Christmas blitz finds many pubs selling to under-18s.

By's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.

The second phase of the joint ACPO and Home Office alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, which ran from December 17 to January 3, targeted the busiest time of the year for your industry. It followed the initial alcohol misuse "blitz" over the summer, which led to government claims that a high number of licensed premises were being caught out in "sting" operations, despite the widespread media coverage.

Government figures indicate that of 1,864 on and off-licensed premises specifically targeted, 45 per cent of on-licensed and 31 per cent of off-licensed were selling to under-18s. However, overall more than 30,500 licensed (including 23,577 on-licensed premises) were visited and, in real terms, the percentage infringing was a small minority.

For the Christmas blitz, the number of regional forces taking part rose from 92 to more than 180. Although the full results are not yet out, the government indicates that 32 per cent of premises targeted by the police sold alcohol to underage people.

These figures have been relied on by the government when announcing proposed new powers aimed towards "creating a culture where drinking sensibly is the norm and where alcohol misuse is considered socially unacceptable".

Those proposed new powers were announced last month in a consultation paper titled Drinking responsibly - the government's proposals. The proposals flag the government's intention not to focus simply on containing or managing disorder associated with excessive drinking but to seek to eradicate it. The following represent the principal proposals:

  • Alcohol disorder zones:​ The police and local authorities are to be given powers to designate alcohol disorder zones, covering licensed premises within an area that have failed to implement actions to reduce alcohol related disorder. Those premises would be required to contribute towards policing and other local costs of dealing with disorder. The government invites responses to the following questions:
  • How should the proposed zones link with existing and new powers under the Licensing Act 2003?
  • How long should the warning period be before a zone is designated?
  • What policing and other costs should be recovered, how should they be apportioned and who should pay for them?
  • Should off-licences be included?
  • How should the zone be defined and how should withdrawal of the zone be determined?

Underage sales:​ Police and/or trading standards officers and/or the licensing authority are to be given powers to temporarily close licensed premises identified as persistently selling to underage people. The government invites responses to the following questions:

  • What should trigger a closure power for underage sales?
  • Who should exercise the power?
  • What should be the penalty for breach of a closure order?

Fixed penalty notices

The consultation paper also proposes that alcohol-related fixed penalty notices should be introduced for attempting to buy alcohol when underage and for selling to a person who is drunk.

Drinking banning order

A drinking banning order is proposed which would allow for the exclusion from the area in question of individuals aged 16 or over who are responsible for alcohol-related disorder.

Irresponsible promotions:​ The government will support the industry in working towards ending all promotions that encourage speed drinking.

Views on any of the above subjects should be sent by February 28 to

What should you do if the police allege underage sales have taken place at your pub?

Any person being investigated in a criminal matter has a fundamental right to obtain legal advice, but regrettably, we are aware of police officers who bring pressure to bear on barstaff and pub managers to respond to questioning before they have had a proper opportunity to seek appropriate advice from a solicitor of their choosing. It is not suggested that you should not co-operate, but all too often, in an attempt to appear helpful, conversations can subsequently compromise a possible defence. Do not be afraid to say that you want time to consult a solicitor.

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