Alcohol has been part of man`s cultural tradition before he realised what “culture” meant. The discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (cir. 10,000 B.C.) Beer was the major beverage among the Babylonians, and as early as 2,700 B.C. they worshiped a wine goddess and other wine deities . Wine making along with the distillation of olive oil was amongst ancient civilisations` earliest industries. The classical pioneers of surgery used various forms of alcohol as anaesthetics and medicaments. A Chinese imperial edict of about 1,116 B.C. makes it clear that the use of alcohol in moderation was believed to be prescribed by heaven. Beer was brewed by monks in the 17th century. The name of the celebrated cartoonist Hogarth became synonymous with his cartoons of Gin Lane and Beer Street in 1750/1.
The benefits and problems associated with drinking alcohol are imbedded in us. However sales of alcohol have been subject to various forms of control for two hundred years and laterally sales from on and off license premises to children have come under increasing scrutiny. The health traumas and social disturbance associated with alcohol and developing brains has long been a cause for concern.
With increasing affluence reaching down to the back pockets and purses of even the pre teen group, legislation against sales to under 18s enshrined in the Licensing Act of 2003 s.146[forbidding sale of alcohol to children] was intended to deter potential offenders. In my opinion if it is perhaps too soon to say it has failed, it is not too soon to say that it is not being used to its potential and there are few things worse in socio/legal terms than the appropriate office having powers to use legislation and not using those powers. Apart from anything else it brings the law [and the lawmaker] into disrespect.
Three weeks ago [24/06/10] I blogged inter alia that it had been a year or more since I had sat on a case of breach of s.146. Of course the man upstairs was spinning the wheel and a few days later before me [and my colleagues] was a case brought, as these cases usually are, by the local trading standards officer of the borough. A 60+ part time employee had been working in the off license for over ten years. She was of good character. In addition some six months previously [as we were later informed] she had successfully refused an alcohol sale to a minor working under cover for the council`s trading standards office in a mystery shopper test. This time however she had pleaded guilty to selling beer, in another trading standards office under age shopping test, to a 12 year old whose picture in evidence left us in no doubt of the child`s appearance being very much under age. The means form and her lawyer explained to us she had been sacked, had little income and was living with and supported by her son. In questioning the prosecutor regarding his asked for costs account of over £1,200 some disturbing facts emerged. When it was pointed out that those council employees whose time was priced in his account were paid to do the job he quoted case law to support his claim………so far so good. When we enquired about the history of sales at the premises we were told of the successful test mentioned earlier but also that other employees….at least on two occasions in the previous two years….had been convicted under s.146. On further questioning he told us that the licensee had never ever been summonsed. He was asked why not. His reply was that policy was to summons licensees of large outlets eg supermarkets but not small retailers. Since this offence also carries the possibility of a Penalty Notice of £80 we asked why this had not been applied to the defendant in these particular circumstances. He told us that he would have required a police officer to administer such a disposal and that was not policy or practicable.
We considered a Conditional Discharge in view of mitigation presented but decided against. Our sentence was Fine £55, Victim Surcharge £15 and costs £55; a total of £125.
The country is bedevilled by juvenile drunkenness and the disorder which follows in its wake. Only when public policy insists why licensees should not lose their license and consequently their income for the actions of their employees will headway be made to control the sales of alcohol to children.
ADDENDUM 28th July 2010
It seems that the new Home Secretary Theresa May is taking my advice.....well one can dream........and has today proposed that licenses are revoked in cases such as blogged above. Don`t stop there Theresa; read on!.