NICA decision on Glenavon House Hotel Breach of Licensing Laws

October 22, 2015

The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has upheld a decision of the District Court in a recent case regarding the liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland which restrict the presence of children on premises where alcohol is sold or consumed.

The Glenavon House Hotel was found to be in breach of the licensing laws thereby committing an offence by allowing a teenage disco to be held in its nightclub. The director of the hotel brought an appeal against the conviction which was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The offences related to a teenage disco held monthly at “Sense Nightclub” which has been running at the hotel since 1994. The disco was for 13 to 17 year olds and was an event where no alcohol was sold or consumed on the premises. The hotel made every effort to ensure that no alcohol was consumed by the teenagers, no alcohol was on display with the bar only serving soft drinks and there were good levels of supervision by adults. Two complaints were received about the hotel holding functions for minors in licensed premises in contravention of the Licensing (NI) Order 1996 (“1996 Order”). The PPS took the case forward on the basis that A58 of the 1996 Order prohibits children from being present on licensed premises. In particular, A58(1)(c) prohibits children being in any part of the licensed premises which contains a bar or which is used mainly or exclusively for the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The crux of the case turned on the meaning of the phrase “used mainly or exclusively for the sale and consumption of alcohol” in connection with the premises. The relevant caselaw sets out that there cannot be a distinction between the uses of the premises at different times of the day but rather the “regular and general user of the room” is what is the determining factor. The Court of Appeal agreed with the District Judge’s finding that the main purpose of the nightclub was for the sale and consumption of alcohol despite the argument put forward by the Appellant that the main use of the nightclub part of the hotel was for entertainment, music and dancing. The Prosecution contended that the caselaw did not support the Appellant’s position and furthermore that the floor plans delineating the area of the nightclub to which a liquor licence attaches is the same as the area in which the teenage disco was being held. The Court of Appeal in agreeing with the lower Court stated that the Z:\Articles\NICA decision on Glenavon House Hotel Breach of Licensing Laws.docx purpose of A58 of the 1996 Order is “to safeguard children within the licensing context by restricting access to licensed premises”.

The Court of Appeal set out that the protection afforded by A58(1)(c)(i) which prohibits children to be present in premises where there is an open bar may not have been infringed by the hotel given that there was no alcohol for sale. It went on to say that the protection set out in A58(1)(c)(ii) which prohibits children being in any part of the licensed premises which are used mainly or exclusively for the sale and consumption of alcohol is infringed. The Court stated that the intention of the legislature was clearly not to permit children to attend on licensed premises as no provision was made for their attendance at alcohol-free events on such premises. The Court clearly stated that it remains an offence for a person under-18 during the permitted hours to be in licensed premises used exclusively or mainly for the sale of alcohol. The Court therefore upheld the conviction against the hotel and stated that in making decisions of this nature the matter of whether the licensed premises are used “exclusively or mainly” for the supply of alcohol is a matter of fact and degree.

There is little to no discussion by the Court within its judgment regarding Children’s Certificates. Article 59 of the 1996 Order provides licensed premises with the ability to obtain a Children’s Certificate which permits children to be in designated areas of licensed premises, when accompanied by an adult, for the purpose of eating a meal. Whether or not there was a Children’s Certificate in place would not have assisted the hotel in making the case that the teenage discos were lawful given that the conditions which must be adhered to that attach to the Children’s Certificate.

This case should be borne in mind by all those licensed premises that regularly hold children’s or under-age events as it is indicative that these such events can only take place on premises where the exclusive or main use of the premises is for the sale or consumption of alcohol.

The case is also noteworthy to those who hold occasional events using an occasional licence where the event will be attended by children. One possible way to approach the licensing of such events is to clearly delineate an area within which children are not permitted to attend to have this as the separate or standalone licensed area, with children not permitted to enter. This may be particularly useful if the event is an open air event on a large scale. If the event is taking place in premises which are already licensed, then the organiser may consider excluding an area of those premises from the licensed area so there is a specific area within which children can attend freely but within which no alcohol can be served.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. If you require any further advice in respect of liquor licensing, please contact Louise Coll, Solicitor, Cleaver Fulton Rankin (DD 028 9027 1311).