Council officer Rob Anderson-Weaver of the Safer Portsmouth Partnership told delegates at the Institute of Licensing’s conference on Reducing the Strength schemes that retailers should take more action to ensure the alcohol they sell is consumed safely.
He backed the introduction of controversial schemes that see councils ban the sale of beer and cider products over a certain strength.
OLN has been leading the campaign for clarity over the legality of schemes and has written to the European Commission seeking its intervention.
Speaking at the conference in Birmingham last week, competition lawyer Doug Cochran, of law firm Kings Chambers, warned that authorities could easily be breaking competition law by bringing in the initiatives.
He said: “Every agreement or scheme must be looked at individually and on its own facts.
“Genuinely free, unilateral participation by retailers is unlikely to violate competition law. But schemes which involve local authority pressure or information sharing [about what other retailers are doing] are likely to be unlawful.”
Gordon Johncox, managing director of Aston Manor, said: “There is a huge question mark over how voluntary the schemes really are and on what evidence base these actions are being taken.
“In terms of competition law, it is quite clear that the schemes run a high risk of contravening UK and EU law. The big question is to what extent are the local authorities liable as an emanation of the state for encouraging retailers to break the law.”
Gill Sherratt, managing director of Licensing Matters, said: “Retailers are bound by the law to uphold the licensing objectives at their premises and ensure the responsible retailing of alcohol there, and to expect them to act any further is, in my view, over- regulating them.”
She added: “Anderson-Weaver does not grasp the limitations of the licensing process and clearly demonstrates his lack of knowledge.
“The idea that selling alcohol is a privilege, not a right is, of course, legally incorrect.
“His comments showed him to be over-zealous and failing to keep the licensing regime in perspective of what it is intended to regulate.”