Posted: Friday, 14 May 2010 @ 11:10
For many years the police have been reluctant to target under 18's who buy or attempt to buy alcohol. Almost always they have gone for the staff who are behind the bar, and usually with fixed penalty fines. And with failure of test purchases the Premises Licence owner has either been prosecuted, taken to review, and with persistent failure (2 in 3 consecutive months) forced to close for a limited period at the police direction as well as taken to review.
Perhaps there has been reluctance to prosecute children because of the risk of criminalising young people who see nothing morally wrong in attempting to buy alcohol when they are within the law to drink it at home. I suspect that there are few adults who have not bought alcohol when under 18, and there will be many transgressors in high places.
But there are signs that a policy change has occured and that the youngsters who are trying to buy the alcohol will be taken to task. It is an offence for a person under 18 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol. With vigilant bar staff and the requirement for ID evidence, the ever resourceful youth have been borrowing ID or using forged ID. Some have suggested that door staff or bar staff can confiscate the borrowed or forged ID, but I question the legality of that. They have no power to do so. So what can be done? In March the Home Office ran a poster campaign against under age drinking. And now we have news that a 17 year old girl has been arrested in Chelmsford for allegedly using someone else's ID to try to buy alcohol.
The interesting thing is that the arrest was not for an offence under the Licensing Act of attempting to buy alcohol whilst under 18, but under the Fraud Act 2006 for fraud by false representation. I must confess that I feel sorry for this girl, suffering the full might of the law for her youthful excess. It does seem wrong that she will possibly have a criminal conviction for fraud which will blight her life as far as her credit and employment staus is concerned. Surely a prosecution under the Licensing Act would have been more appropriate and proportionate. We need to stand back and examine our whole approach to alcohol, and the mixed messages we give to our children. This latest turn of events reminds me of the prosecution of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the 1970s for minor drugs offences, and William Rees-Mogg's famous Times leader about crushing a butterfly on a wheel. But I am sure that some may disagree with me.
I do of course sympathise with bar staff who have the unenviable task of preventing sales to a resourceful youth. But it seems to me that there has not been enough education and direction targetted at the youngsters. All the talk and action has been targetted at pubs and clubs.
I suggest that if the police intend to target our children in this way that a high profile nationwide campaign should first be conducted over a period of 12 months with a published date for a zero tolerance introduction, with the campaign publicised in all licensing venues, on the media, and in schools. It should spell out precisely what will happen to those attempting to buy alcohol whilst under 18, and the gravity of using false ID. Government must get the message across if it is to successfully tackle the problems of under age drinking.
Licensing Law Specialist
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