Offenders just can't refuse this offer

Related tags Trading standards Notice Crime License Officer

Last Friday, a whole new wave of measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Act came into effect. Principal among them for the licensed trade was the...

Last Friday, a whole new wave of measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Act came into effect. Principal among them for the licensed trade was the introduction of new sections to the Licensing Act 2003, concerning the selling of alcohol to children.

These measures have been brought in to allow the police, community support offices and trading standards to use additional powers to punish outlets that persistently sell to children; but they also create a dangerous new power of closure without recourse to the courts - in effect, making the offender an offer he or she cannot refuse.

I am concerned at the complexity of these new rules, and once again I think the drafting is at fault. It will take a policeman quite some time to work out exactly what he can and cannot do, and there are bound to be mistakes. Let's hope they can be rectified before the licensee's business is put at risk for unjustifiable reasons.

The main problem is this legislation's double-edged sword. Police or trading standards can charge the premises' licence-holder with an offence under the new section 147A: persistently selling alcohol to children on three or more different occasions within a three-month period, for which magistrates can fine up to £10,000 and suspend alcohol sales for up to three months. Alternatively, they can issue a closure notice, giving the premises' licence- holder the option of stopping sales for up to 48 hours in place of prosecution.

The sales do not have to be made by the same person, but there must be three occasions resulting in a prosecution, caution or fixed-penalty notice on the same premises within the three-month period. Then it is up to the officer who discovers the third offence to proceed with one or other of the options.

The closure notice must be in a specified form set by regulations and tell the licence -holder(s) how they can accept the notice formally and escape prosecution. They have up to 14 days to accept the trading loss - presumably the matter will then go to court. If they disagree with the issuing of the notice, the matter will go to court anyway.

Next month these new powers will be tested for the first time, with a Home Office-inspired blitz on under-age sales. Assuming that the police and council keep good records, they are likely to produce one or two potential persistent sellers. Closure notices or even prosecutions may well be on the cards.

This supplements existing powers for licensing authorities to suspend the premises licence on a review, which the police or trading standards could request in the normal way if there were repeated sales to minors. At that review, one option for the licensing authority is licence suspension for up to three months.

The new law merely adds draconian penalties - clearly, the idea of co-operation with the licensed trade has not deterred Government from wielding a big stick, just in case.

What now waits round the corner, of course, from the same Act, are Alcohol Disorder Zones, on which the Home Office is due to consult shortly. Let's hope the pundits are right in suggesting that no-one is keen to go down that route at the moment.

Police response-time for TEN

QI applied for a temporary event notice (TEN) for a party, due to take place at the end of the month, in plenty of time. On the same day, I sent the notice to the police. This week a policeman called to say he had been away and had only just seen the notice. He was not entirely happy and said he would contact the licensing office. Can he do anything now?

AOfficially, no. If we all play the strict time-limit game, the police must respond within 48 hours of receiving the notice, or they can do nothing.

It would be grossly unfair if your licensing authority accepted an objection so far out of time, simply on the basis that the officer concerned was away. The requirement is to give the notice, and the second requirement is for the police to respond in the due time, whatever the circumstances. The Act says nothing about the police licensing officer: the notice is for "the Chief Officer of Police" - official-speak for the police in general. It

is up to them to ensure that someone reacts in time.

I understand there has been some back-dating of TEN responses, but that could not justify seeking to issue an objection a week after the TEN was given.

Size of tobacco sales notice

QOur local trading standards officer visited us recently and stated that we need an A3 notice about tobacco sales to children under 16. We have changed from selling cigarettes from a vending machine to selling tobacco over the bar.

When we sold cigarettes from the machine, we had a small sign on the machine, approximately A6 in size. Can you please advise me on whether I need to display a sign as big as A3?

AUnfortunately, you do. The size is set by regulations made under the relevant legislation. It is true that the size stipulated for cigarette machine is much smaller - about the size of a postcard - but all premises selling tobacco products directly must display a large A3-sized sign with lettering at least 36mm in height. It is usual for the A3 sign to be produced in a

landscape format.

From 1 October, of course, a new notice will be required - on that date the age limit rises from 16 to 18 years. While the English smoking ban prevents people from smoking on your premises from 1 July, it does not mean that you have to stop selling tobacco products over the bar, or from machines.

Wine-waiting guidance

QCan I give a bottle of wine to a 16-year-old waitress to take from the bar to a table in the restaurant, or must she fetch it from somewhere else?

AThe waitress can take it from you in the bar. If you are billing the table from there, you are probably making the sale yourself, and she is merely the messenger.

In any event, you are authorising the sale at the time, so it is quite legal.

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