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Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in England

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Last year, Kurt looked into the origins of Saint Patrick’s Day and examined some of the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection holdings that relate to this day.  I thought that I would do a slightly different take on the day and see how, despite the volatile history, it is celebrated in England.  The celebrations are, in many ways, similar to celebrations here in the U.S.:  people wear green and there are parades and other cultural celebrations around the country.  It is also a day where people consume lots of Guinness or Caffrey’s in pubs across the nation (think Cinco de Mayo and tequila…).

I used to work behind the bar in a pub and remember in the run up to Saint Patrick’s Day, and on the day itself, sales of these ales increased considerably.  It gave me plenty of opportunity to practice drawing shamrocks in the heads of pints of Guinness, as well as plenty of time to be frustrated that it took so long to pour Caffrey’s – I had to draw just over half, let it sit to settle (which took forever), before pouring the remainder.  That was never fun when there was a bar full of people ordering pints and pints of the stuff.  During this time, as well as my University days, I  learned that Saint Patrick’s Day was one of the few days of the year where it was socially acceptable to stand outside pubs and wait for them to open.

On that note, and recalling Kelly’s post on drinking laws in New Zealand, I thought that it would be interesting to look at some of the drinking laws in England.

The drinking laws in England are slightly more liberal than in the U.S., and many people argue they have led to an increase of irresponsible binge drinking.  The Licensing Act updated the laws licensing the sale and provision of alcohol in 2003.  This Act consolidated and updated the laws regarding licensing of alcohol sales, repealing some Acts dating back to the 18th century.  The reason for this Act was, among other things, to reduce the number of disorderly incidents that were happening outside licensed premises (these include bars, pubs, restaurants and stores where alcohol is sold) at closing time.  The thought was that if closing times of pubs were not uniform, then there would not be the surge of people that had been drinking pouring out onto the streets, which frequently led to fights and other drunken and disorderly behavior.

As noted above, irresponsible drinking as well as underage drinking, has been a concern in England.  The Licensing Act includes a variety of offenses to attempt to curb this behavior, including: knowingly selling alcohol to a person who is drunk on licensed premises and failing to leave licensed premises when drunk and disorderly after being instructed to do so by the police.

Licenses for the sale and supply of alcohol are provided by licensing authorities across England, which are typically the local councilsAdditional conditions to licenses have been introduced to further help combat irresponsible drinking.  These conditions are mandatory in order for a license to be issued, which is required for premises to sell alcohol.  These conditions include:

  • requiring all licensed premises to have an age verification policy;
  • ensuring smaller measures of drinks are sold;
  • prohibiting “irresponsible promotions” (such as games designed to encourage drinking); and
  • banning the dispensing of drinks directly into customers’ mouths.

There are additional measures that enable the police to be proactive, rather than purely reactive; such as the ability to apply to the Magistrate’s court to close a licensed premises for up to twenty four hours if it is at or near a place that is disorderly, or where disorder is expected and closure is “necessary to prevent disorder.”

On another note, one rather large plus for college-aged students is that they may (legally) celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by drinking at pubs in the UK a few years before their counterparts in the U.S.  The age to legally purchase all alcoholic beverages is eighteen (18) years of age, however, there are various provisions that provide that it is lawful to consume alcoholic beverages before this age.  Youths between the ages of sixteen (16) and seventeen (17) may order wine, beer, or cider in a licensed premises (typically a pub or restaurant) if it is ordered with a meal and an adult is present.

It is an offense not only to sell alcohol to under eighteens, but also to knowingly allow the consumption (far broader than simply the sale) of alcohol by a person under the age of eighteen on licensed premises.  Both of these offenses are punishable, upon summary conviction, with a fine of up to £5,000 (approximately US $8,000) (level 5 on the standard scale of fines for summary offenses).

For young children, the law is fairly straight cut – it is unlawful to provide any child under the age of five (5) years old with alcohol unless it is given under medical supervision, “in cases of sickness,” or in an emergency.  Doing so is punishable upon summary conviction with a fine of up to £200 (approximately US$300) (this is level 1 on the standard scale of fines for summary offenses).

There have been concerns about minors drinking alcohol, and many studies have been conducted.  However, the laws regarding legal drinking ages have remained the same.

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