Drink Aware

Author:Ms Lorraine Compton
Profession:Matheson Ormsby Prentice

Originally published in Licensing World Directory, 2007

With hotels and restaurants relying on their staff to care for the wellbeing of their licence, proper staff training is a vital component of the licensed trade and can protect against costly legal proceedings and even closure.

The Licensing Act 2000 introduced a radical new penalty in the form of the temporary closure order for underage drinking offences. This was further extended in 2003 to cover an increased range of offences and it currently applies to the following:

Sales to underage persons (mandatory)

Allowing unaccompanied persons under the age of 18 years to be on a dedicated off licence premises (mandatory)

Offences relating to drunken persons (mandatory)

Permitting disorderly conduct on the premises (mandatory)

Permitting the consumption of alcohol sold for consumption off the premises within 100 metres of your premises mandatory)

Findings of discrimination pursuant to the Equal Status Act 2000 (discretionary)

If a judge convicts for most of the above offences a temporary closure order must follow. What this means in practical terms is that during the period of the closure order the premises will be closed and no business, even the non-licensed kind can take place. For a first offence the period of closure can be up to one week and for a second offence closure for seven to 30 days. There is also a large element of negative publicity, as a sign stating why the premises is closed has to be displayed on the front door. As a licensing solicitor, I am involved on a regular basis defending prosecutions under the Intoxicating Liquor Acts. From my experience a number of observations are worth sharing.

Firstly, you are only as good as your weakest link. In almost all of the prosecutions I have handled, although staff training in some form may have taken place, for the most part the employee giving rise to the prosecution slipped through the training net for whatever reason or had minimal training. As the licence holder, you cannot stand behind the bar of your premises for 13 hours a day, seven days a week supervising every sale so you are relying on your staff to care for the safety and wellbeing of your licence at times when you are not there personally.

Thorough training of all staff, not forgetting your part time staff and door staff, will help ensure that this reliance is justified. You should ensure that your staff training is refreshed at regular intervals, say every six months. In practice the retraining should not take a great deal of time. After each training session the staff should sign an acknowledgement form and those should be retained for production to a Court in the event of a prosecution.

Reliance on training on its own, however, is not the whole solution. It should be coupled with active and careful management of the premises on each shift and the licence holder should be in a position to prove adequate supervision of the premises in the event of a prosecution. Managers should remind staff at the commencement of every shift to look for proof of age and to make sure that alcohol is not sold to people displaying signs of drunkenness. Employees should be warned in training that if they sell alcohol to underage drinkers or drunken persons they themselves can be prosecuted for aiding and abetting. It should be stressed to employees that GardaÌ are now regularly prosecuting employees who have been involved in underage sales on a regular basis as well as the licence holders themselves.

While the existence of proper training procedures may not prevent a conviction, it will certainly go a long way to mitigate the mandatory penalties in respect of the offences under the Act. It may for example influence the Court to impose a shorter closure order or (where practical) only close part of the premises, where it is demonstrated that the licensee did every within his power to prevent the offence. It could also affect the size of the fine imposed and whether the conviction will be enclosed in the licence.

Staff Obligation

All staff are obliged to act responsibly when...

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