Last week, the Government proposed changing sentencing guidelines so there is no maximum fine for a ‘Level 5’ offence, including selling alcohol to minors, and a four-fold increase to £4,000 for the maximum fine for selling alcohol to a drunk person (see table below).
The changes are being tabled under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and will be brought into force by secondary legislation, which means there will be no formal consultation. The Ministry of Justice said the proposals will be debated and then approved by Parliament “when Parliamentary time allows”.
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said the proposals have “come out of the blue” and it is rare that licensees purposefully “flout the law” on underage sales and sales to drunk people.
“We’ve tightened up procedures enormously in terms of the number of refusals and it’s almost impossible to get into a pub without showing ID if you’re anywhere near looking under the age of 21.
“I don’t think increasing fines is necessary given the other powers that are available, nor is it helpful.”
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers strategic affairs director Kate Nichols added: “It’s taken us all by surprise, especially given how much the law has tightened up in this area already.”
She added that she will be contacting the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to question the practicality of the unlimited fines and urged magistrates to “act with caution, because it’s people’s livelihoods we’re talking about”.
'Sharpening a rarely used tooth'
Poppleston Allen solicitor Andy Grimsey said the “first resort” for authorities in the case of underage sales is usually a fixed penalty notice for the bar staff and a threat of review for the licence holder, rather than prosecution.
“I still believe these will be the preferred options for the police and trading standards, where prosecutions involve higher costs and a tougher standard of proof.
“As for sales to drunks, I don’t believe there have been many such prosecutions in any event so the Government may be sharpening a rarely used tooth,” he said.
John Gaunt of John Gaunt & Partners also said maximum fines are “hardly ever, if ever” imposed, and a licensee will only be hit with a large fine in the “most exceptional circumstances”.
“A threatened review is probably a greater sanction than the imposition of a one-off fine,” he added.
Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: “Financial penalties at the right level can be effective in punishing criminals and deterring them from further offending. That is why we are updating the maximum levels of fines that can be issued for the first time in more than 20 years.”
The list of offences and proposed fines:
Maximum fine - current
Maximum fine - proposed
LA 2003 (section)
Failure to leave licensed premises on request when drunk or disorderly
Unsupervised sales by children
Failure of premises licence holder to update name or address
Failure to display or produce premises licence
Failure to produce personal licence
Failure of personal licence holder to update name or address
Failure to produce personal licence to Court when charged with a relevant offence
Keeping alcohol on premises for unauthorised sale
Allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises
Sale of alcohol to a person who is drunk
Obtaining alcohol for a person who is drunk
Permitting unaccompanied under 16s on certain premises
Purchase of alcohol by children
Under 18 knowingly consuming alcohol on relevant premises
Obstructing an authorised person investigating licensable activities
Failure to notify licensing authority of relevant convictions during personal licence application period
Sale of alcohol to children
Allowing the sale of alcohol to children
Purchase of alcohol on behalf of children
Knowingly allowing the consumption of alcohol on relevant premises by children
Delivering alcohol to children
Sending a child to obtain alcohol
Knowingly or recklessly making a false statement in connection with applications
Source: John Gaunt & Partners