Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.
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Monday, 11 November 2013
THE HYPOCRISY OF s.146 (ALCOHOL SALES TO CHILDREN)
I joined our Licensing Committee in 2003/4. I have never been called upon to sit as a licensing magistrate. In 2005 licensing matters were transferred to Local Authorities, via the creation of ‘Licensing Authorities’. Many learned individuals and organisations counseled against such a transfer. Sadly the Jeremiahs have been proved correct. It is hardly coincidental that problems of excessive alcohol consumption have since then become almost a daily feature of the printed media and a common subject for TV programmers. And this is not mere anecdote. Medical statisticians have their own evidence of the increasingly younger age at which liver disease is appearing in patients. The man from planet Mars sitting in any public gallery of any magistrates` court in England and Wales will quickly be appraised of the relationship between criminal activity and alcohol. So in the usual British way belated political so called initiatives, sticking plaster solutions and some shrewd marketing practice are in the news.
Last year the Police Reform and SocialResponsibility Act 2011 became the law of the land. As far as selling of alcohol is concerned the following are the two main measures designed to reduce the impact of drunken offending and sales to children.
1. Measures to give communities and local authorities greater control over alcohol licensing to tackle problem premises. They will have new powers to restrict premises from selling alcohol late at night if necessary and be able to clamp down harder on premises which persistently sell to children doubling the fine to £20,000.
2. A stronger local influence on licensing decisions by allowing everyone the option to comment on licensing applications: not just those living close to premises, and ensuring health and policing concerns are considered more widely so that the impact of licensing on crime and disorder or public safety can be taken into account.
To put in perspective the first point above, the average fine imposed under s146 [selling alcohol to children] in 2008 was less than £500. I have been unable to source newer statistics. This is a clear example of the politics of hot air. It rises above the cold air of reality until temperatures are equalised and then falls to earth. The other point is remarkably similar to the considerations that magistrates` licensing committees applied before their powers were removed into the welcoming hands of “representatives of the community”. Guidance on under age sales operated by local authorities revolves around test purchases. Invariably that involves small off license shops being being visited for purchases by children under the watchful control of trading standards officers. I have never experienced in court or read of a supermarket being prosecuted. Either they never arouse suspicion or they are too big to be tackled.
The application of sticking plaster is the proposal to set up “drunk tanks” where those jelly legged apologies for thinking beings can be held in safety whilst they sober up rather than clogging up the custody cells in police stations. The Independent Police ComplaintsCommission (IPCC) has made the remarkable discovery that many people suffer from alcohol and/or mental health problems. I would never have guessed……….On second thoughts an analogy with sticking plaster is inappropriate. A complete bodycast seems apposite. There should be an enquiry into why supposed intelligent people in Westminster and Whitehall can consistently support legislative changes that are so obviously [to the common man from Mars] inappropriate for the situation and/or problem under consideration. Of course we will have to wait for the 3rd coming for that…..nobody will believe the 2nd coming if and when it happens.
The Lancashire Evening Post has a report which demonstrates all too clearly what is wrong with those whose remit is to uphold the law and demonstrate its strength; police, trading standards officers and CPS who are failing in their duties to apply meaningful sanctions to those who flout this legislation. It is only by fining licensees a meaningful amount and enforcing premises closures that s.146 will be observed. Until then society is hardly even paying lip service to the notion that there is a prohibition on under age drinking.
And shrewd marketing tactics are never far away from the Coca Cola company. It is not unlikely that its BOGOF will arrive at many pubs in time for Christmas as it did last year. That is “Buy 1, get 1 free” provided it`s for the designated driver and the drink is straight Coke. I suppose every little helps. At least that`s what the Transport Department hopes.