Are the police trying to take the law into their own hands?

18 May, 2007

The law of the land is that anybody over the age of 18 can buy and consume alcohol. But there are disturbing signs that some police officers want to enforce a different piece of legislation.

The law of the land is that anybody over the age of 18 can buy and consume alcohol. But there are disturbing signs that some police officers want to enforce a different piece of legislation - one that was never endorsed by Parliament but which is the product of their own imaginations.

We're hearing worrying reports that some drinks retailers are being told they must ban sales to those aged under 21. This is quite different, of course, from the widely accepted principle that anyone who looks under 21 should be challenged for ID.

Stores are being informed, or so we are led to believe, that if they refuse to comply with the police request their licence risks being put up for review.

On the one hand, this is utter garbage. Police have no right to change the law's demands on retailers and there is nothing in the Licensing Act that allows them to unilaterally amend the age of majority for drinks purchases, any more than they can raise the voting age.

But on the other hand, claiming that stores who refuse to comply will risk a licence review is maybe not so far-fetched. If a store owner stands his or her ground and continues to serve 18-year-olds, what's to stop a police officer from marching out of the shop and declaring it a "problem" premise?

Once you're on that blacklist, you could be blitzed with test purchases and if the police try hard enough, they may well secure enough evidence to get the licence reviewed.

Indeed, they may not even bother to go to such trouble. If the shop has a history of problems (real or imagined) simply refusing to comply with a police request might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The police wouldn't necessarily have to mention it at the licensing review - all they would say was that the store was badly run and ought to lose its licence. They'd find evidence to back their case.

Theoretically, a business could have a run of bad luck with staff and test purchases and then find itself backed into a corner by police.

At this point, do they risk a hearing, or do they comply with an instruction to refuse sales to under-21s?

As far as we can tell, these appear to be isolated incidents, but if readers are finding themselves in similar situations, please let us know.




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