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Serving to drunks

As every Licensee appreciates, it is an offence under the Licensing Act 2003 to knowingly sell alcohol to a person who is drunk.

That being said, we would guess that it is one of the more frequently overlooked provisions of the Act. This being so, it is surprising that so few premises are prosecuted for the offence – two in the past 10 years according to Home Office statistics. But it wasn’t always like this.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn’t uncommon for publicans to find themselves before the Justices for selling to drunks. In modern times however, the police will say that it’s a very difficult offence to prove. They almost have to be present when it is being committed to have any prospect of gathering the necessary evidence.

Nevertheless, they haven’t given up on the idea that it is important that the trade remembers its obligations. To do this they are coming at it from a safeguarding angle. A drunk person, once out of the premises, is vulnerable.

If anything happens to them the finger of blame may thrust itself in the face of the venue in which they got themselves in that state.

In a recent police crackdown, Bedfordshire Police (who are the first to admit that they copied the idea from Liverpool) have taken the unusual step of using volunteer actors to pretend they were drunk in order to test if local pubs and clubs would sell alcohol.

All of the actors were instructed to appear not just drunk but almost incapable – ‘the drunkest person in the room’ we are told by the officer responsible for the campaign.

Alcohol was sold on several occasions despite the obvious signs. The premises themselves couldn’t be prosecuted because the actors weren’t actually drunk.

Everyone who made a sale was given advice and warned to be more aware. This is the first time in recent years, that the trade has been reminded of their responsibilities for not only individuals within the premises, but also those who are about to leave.

For more information and guidance on this, please contact Richard Arnot or visit our web page.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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