*Some exceptions for alcohol, none for tobacco
*Severe penalties for licensees
*Full text released at press conference yesterday by Justice minister Daniel Feetham and Minister for Family, Youth and Community Affairs Jaime Netto:
BACKGROUND. In 2008 we conducted a public consultation on whether the age at which a young person can procure or purchase alcohol should be increased from the current age limit of 16. At the time, we made it clear that the Government did not intend to change one of the central corner stones in the current legislation that it is not the under age child or young person who commits an offence in consuming alcohol or smoking tobacco but the adult who procures or sells that alcohol or tobacco to him or her. In other words, we would not change our policy of not criminalising young people.
The majority of those consulted in the exercise wanted the relevant age to be increased. Interestingly, however, much of the concern expressed was directed at the enforcement of the current laws and the sale of alcohol to those under 16. The Government also listened very carefully to the views expressed by young people through representative groups who made very valid and persuasive submissions. Their position was that whereas they agreed with an increase in the relevant sale/procurement age for tobacco on various health related grounds, there was very little evidence of alcohol abuse amongst 16 and 17 year olds over and above general trends in alcohol consumption amongst the population at large. That whilst it is certainly true that physiologically, alcohol can affect someone under the age of 21 more severely than someone over that age, if this were the sole basis for an increase in the legal age then it should be increased to 21.
They argued that the problem of alcohol abuse needed to be tackled holistically across age groups and that there were specific enforcement issues affecting the current regime which needed to be tackled in order to prevent the sale of alcohol to those under age. A group of representation from Bayside and Westside also, however, accepted that it would not be unreasonable to limit the type of alcoholic drinks available to 16 and 17 year olds. Not only were many of the arguments put to us by these groups persuasive but they were a credit to the intelligence and level headedness of our young people and on behalf of the Government I would like to thank all those young people who came to my office to express their views on this issue.
The Government agrees that the issue of the anti-social drinking and the alcohol abuse cannot be tackled simply by raising the procurement/sale age to 18. The Government also wants to avoid a situation where over targeting 16 and 17 year olds with a prohibitionary regime, merely drives young people across the border or leads to the perennial problem with total prohibition which is that the activity becomes more attractive to young people.
We emphasise that in the UK were the relevant age is 18 the World Health Organisation in its 2008 report Health Behaviour in School Aged Children reported that English school children are amongst the most likely children in Europe to have drunk alcohol under the relevant age.
In this legislation the Government is therefore balancing the need to introduce a tighter more effective legislative framework protecting young people by limiting the circumstance and type of alcohol 16 and 17 year olds can consume together with better enforcement and greater penalties for offenders, without going down the route of a total prohibition for 16 and 17 year olds.
Further the Government is not only introducing balanced legislative change but will also work together with youth organisations and others, to undertake a wider campaign on issues such as binge drinking and smoking and its effects across age groups. The details of these will be announced in the future.
THE SUMMARY OF CHANGES TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS (ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND GAMING) ACT 2006 ARE AS FOLLOWS:
1.1 Raising Sale and Procurement Ages to 18
Sale and procurement ages for alcohol and tobacco are raised to 18. The only exceptions are:
1.2 Sale of alcohol to an under 18 on licensed premises.
A 16 or 17 year old will still be able to buy alcohol at licensed premises (eg a bar or restaurant) for consumption on the premises provided that the alcohol consists of beer, wine, cider of an alcoholic strength of not more than 15% or an alcopop of an alcoholic strength of 5.5 or less (the permitted alcoholic drinks).
1.3 Procurement of Alcohol by someone with parental responsibility.
It shall also be lawful for anyone who has parental responsibility for a 16 year or 17 year old to procure one of the permitted alcoholic drinks for that person for consumption under his supervision. This also applies to someone over 18 who has the consent of a person with parental responsibility for the 16 or 17 year old.
1.4 No one under 18 to buy alcohol at off-licence.
In the premises no one under the age of 18 will be able to procure alcohol at an off license shop.
1.5 No Exceptions for Tobacco.
The exceptions do not apply to tobacco sale or procurement which is 18 across the board.
1.6 Punishments Increased.
The punishment for licensees will be severe. A licensee prosecuted for selling alcohol or tobacco to anyone under 18 in circumstances not permitted by the Act will be liable to the following punishment – (a) on a first offence – Fixed at £5000; (b) on a second offence – Fixed at £10,000 and the possibility of having his licence suspended or revoked; (c) on a third or subsequent offence – Fixed at £15,000 and his licence will be either suspended or revoked. These are mandatory fines.
1.7 Tightening of defences.
In order to successfully defend a prosecution a defendant who sold the alcohol or tobacco will need to show that the relevant person (ie the youth) produced as evidence of his age - (a) a passport; (b) identity card; or (c) a driver’s licence.
And that evidence would have convinced a reasonable person. The last caveat is intended to deal with a situation where a forged document is produced.
Licensees who did not actually sell will still be liable for the actions of employees unless they show that they exercised due diligence including ensuring that their staff were adequately trained, monitored and supervised.
1.8 Sale of alcohol to a young person who is drunk.
It will be an offence to sell alcohol to any young person who is drunk. For the licensees the penalties are as for selling to anyone under 18 in the circumstances prohibited by the Act. (ie the same severe penalties).
1.9 Consumption of alcohol in public place and disorderly behaviour.
The police will also have the power to confiscate alcohol from any person who is drinking in public or intends to do so if he or she is behaving in a manner that is causing or is likely to cause a breach of the peace or the person is under the age of 18 and is drinking in public without parental supervision. Failure to surrender the alcohol shall constitute an offence.
The Act will not have retrospective effect and will therefore not apply to anyone who has reached the age of 16 on 1 April 2011. The Act will also not be commenced until that date to allow licences and others to train staff on the issues raised by the new law.