Licensing laws

Malcolm IrelandThe Home Office has now published one of the most important documents in recent times to affect those in the licensed trade.

The Mandatory Licensing Conditions are currently in a draft form, although three are due to come into force in April and a further two in October this year.

Whilst only five conditions appear in the draft Statutory Instrument, which will bring the conditions into force, the Government have the power to introduce nine, so these conditions could well be added to as well as amended.

In short, the Code will:
• require licensees to provide free tap water
• require licensees to have an age verification policy at the premises, requiring proof of age to be produced by anyone who appears to be under 18 (or older in certain cases)
• ban “irresponsible” drinks promotions such as, for example, providing free or discounted alcohol in connection with the outcome of a sporting event
• ban alcohol being dispensed directly into customers mouth, i.e. “the dentist’s chair”
• require licensees to make smaller measures of alcoholic drinks available

Breach of the above would carry a maximum punishment of up to six months in jail and / or up to a £20,000 fine.

The proposals seem to have been met with mixed responses. They have been watered down when compared to previous versions, so some are seeing these as a hit they are willing to take.

Some groups, including Noctis, a body which represents those involved in the night-time economy, have been quoted as saying that the Code is entirely disproportionate.

Detractors cite the example of a potential six month jail term for somebody who refuses a free glass of tap water to a customer.

The British Beer and Pub Association have also criticised the draft conditions for focussing too much on the on-trade.

Personally, I believe the vast majority of licensees already adopt a common sense approach and common practices such as Challenge 21 mean they already comply with parts of the Code.

There is certainly an argument to say that the Code is an example of punishing all operators for the actions of a few, instead of using existing powers to weed out the minority of irresponsible operators.

There is every chance that the conditions will be added to or amended before they become law, and I am quite sure they will continue to generate a good deal of debate.

Malcolm Ireland, head of licensing, Napthens solicitors.