Staying on the right side of the law this Christmas

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Legal advice on serving drunk customers at Christmas

Related tags: Crime

The festive period will likely involve a police drink-drive campaign showing disturbing images and reinforcing the devastating effect that ‘just one more’ drink can have on families.

You will be aware of the unpredictability of those who drink mainly during the festive season and indeed of regular drinkers, but what about your responsibilities if they propose to drive home?

A High Court case in Ireland considered a claim that a licensee acted negligently when serving a customer six pints while knowing he intended to drive. He was then involved in a fatal collision. The court concluded that “the duty of care being suggested could include an obligation on publicans to restrain, assault or even imprison those they believe to be unfit to drive. That would result in publicans committing a criminal act and is not something any court could contemplate”.

Another case involved an already intoxicated customer buying a drink, falling off a high bar stool and suffering severe injuries, leaving him quadriplegic. It was claimed the bar man should have offered him a low chair. The court dismissed the case on the basis that while it was a criminal offence to serve alcohol to a drunk person it was not fair or reasonable to expect him to assume responsibility for that customer’s safety even in circumstances where, if served with more alcohol, he knew they might become incapable of taking reasonable care of themselves. In Arizona, conversely, there have been substantial settlements and judgments against bars for victims of drunk drivers.

These cases are not binding in England and Wales. Nonetheless, with any drink-driving offence, operators of licensed premises and their staff have an obligation to prevent crime and disorder and to promote public safety, so serving a customer six pints of alcohol when it is clear he will be driving could be seen as aiding and abetting the commission of an offence and consequently lead to a review of a premises licence.

Potential criticism could be avoided by premises taking a proactive approach to promoting public safety and the prevention of crime. For example, there are premises voluntarily selling breathalyser kits for use by their customers. Some raise the profile of using taxis by providing telephone numbers, ensuring a visual presence or alternatively, directions to a taxi rank. Staff training on how to refuse the sale of alcohol is critical.

The use of a designated driver’s scheme could also be encouraged. In St Helens, many licensed premises have agreed to provide designated drivers with free soft drinks after showing their driving licence and car keys.

Related topics: Licensing law

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