Signs can point to trouble

Related tags Law Officer

QLast year I took over this pub which has painted signs in various places, three of which say "food always available". What's the legal position on...

QLast year I took over this pub which has painted signs in various places, three of which say "food always available". What's the legal position on this, as we only have a lunchtime and weekend evening meals service at present, due to staff shortages.

AThe answer to this question depends very much on the circumstances. However, there may be legal action which can be taken against a licensee for persistently issuing a misleading or false trade description about the facilities or services that he offers.

Technically, signs such as "food always available", or "lunches served daily" should accurately describe the situation to be found by customers. It would be misleading to use either notice, for example, for a pub that had no food service on a Sunday.

The fact that this type of notice may be painted onto the building rather than placed outside as a sign will not affect the need for accuracy, as far as trading standards law is concerned. The signing of this type is really a form of advertising to the general public, and as such comes within the ambit of the local trading standards officer, who may be asked to make enquiries about its accuracy.

Clearly, where food is not available through some emergency or unforeseen circumstance, such as illness, non-delivery or a sudden influx of customers earlier in the day, the fact may be enough to render the licensee free from prosecution. But where a sign states that food is "always" available, the law might consider that most foreseeable eventualities should have been dealt with by the licensee who caused the message to be placed outside the premises.

Dog days in the bar

QWe have a number of customers who like to bring their dogs to the pub, especially at weekends. I have been asked if a customer is bitten as a result of some incident, could he sue me, as the licensee, for allowing dogs in the bar? We have a dog of our own, but he is not allowed in the bar.

AI would consider it extremely unlikely in normal circumstances that a customer could sustain a claim for damages against you or your insurers for injury resulting from his own or a third party's negligence.

The situation would, of course, be different if the dog was your own. You would then have a duty to ensure, as far as was reasonable, that it remained under control and did not injure persons who were likely to be on your premises.

This might not apply merely to your customers but also to cases of trespass. And, as many landlords know, you have certain obligations under the legislation which controls dangerous dogs.

In the circumstances you describe, however, even if the dog belonged to you, it would be difficult to see a court finding against you, unless the animal was known by you to be dangerous and you carelessly allowed it into the bar. If the negligent action was that of the customer who for example stepped on to the dog, provoking a reaction, then you could not be held liable. It is not normally possible successfully to sue someone else for the results of your own negligence.

Meals and shutting shop

QDoes the half hour drinking up time apply to meals taken in the bar?

ATechnically, yes, if the alcohol was supplied as an ancillary to the meal. Normally, as you know, drinking up time is 20 minutes, but this is extended to half an hour in cases where persons are "taking meals". There is no requirement that this must be in part of the premises set aside for the purpose, such as a restaurant or dining area. However, to have two different drinking-up times in the same area can cause difficulties.

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