Prosecuting the underage better than focus on lent IDs

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Identity document, Passport, Personal identification

Coulson: why does the Government not recognise the deterrent effect of prosecution for buying drinks underage?
Coulson: why does the Government not recognise the deterrent effect of prosecution for buying drinks underage?
MA legal editor Peter Coulson considers the legality of pursuing those who lent their ID to family or friends.

Much controversy was caused recently by a statement issued by Swansea Police, saying that they were going to pursue people who lent their ID to members of their family or friends for the purpose of obtaining alcohol.

I wrote at the time that this seemed a bridge too far, legally. However, I have been in correspondence with a reader on the issues and he has directed me to two pieces of legislation — the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. Yes, I am that sad: I read Acts of Parliament for fun!

Although the first Act is concerned principally with the establishment of a national identity card for purposes that include "the enforcement of prohibitions of purchases of age-restricted products", it also covers the possession of false identity documents, or an identity document that belongs to someone else, with the intention of inducing another person to use it for establishing certain facts (including age). So the actual possession of your brother's ID when you go into a pub could in itself be

an offence.

However, there are two important points here. This will not cover trade-based or independent proof-of-age cards, such as PASS cards. The Act defines the type of identity documents to which this offence applies — mainly the new Government ID card, a passport or a driving licence. So producing a completely false age card, which is not one of these, will not trigger the Act. Similarly, forging or using a forged or changed passport or driving licence would be an offence anyway, but not tampering with another type of ID card, except the new Government one.

Secondly, there does not appear directly to be an offence by the family member who supplies the document to the underage drinker, at least, not under these two Acts. Whether the police feel that there could be a charge of "aiding and abetting" the commission of the offence of possession is not clear, but there is an awful lot of evidence to be gathered on that score and I am not sure that the Swansea Police have that much time at their disposal.

Deterrent effect

My correspondent is lobbying his own MP and the Home Secretary on these issues, quite rightly, in my view. I do not see why a person who is old enough to try and dupe a licensee should not be old enough to be fined for it.

After all, it is a lot easier to establish that someone underage is trying to buy an alcoholic drink than it is to chase around trying to discover who gave him the document — and actually a lot more effective.

I am still unclear as to why this Government does not recognise the deterrent effect of prosecution in these cases.

Young people (and their families) genuinely consider that trying to buy a drink underage is a guilt-free exercise and is not a criminal act at all. Yet now that just two incidents of underage selling can risk the whole of a person's livelihood in the licensed trade, would it not be a good idea to ram home the message that both attempting to buy and using fraud or subterfuge to do so is a crime that can be punished.

Even the current TV campaign aimed at potential young drinkers concentrates on the damaging side-effects of alcohol and its "progression" to drugs and sex.

It is intended to shock, but nowhere does it mention that buying alcohol underage is illegal. Just some of the money could be spent on getting this message across — and a little more support from the police and the Home Office would help to redress the balance.

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