Belfast City Hall
The Committee considered the following report:
‘1.0 Purpose of Report or Summary of Main Issues
1.1 Further to the issue raised by Councillor Craig at Committee on 10 May 2016, the purpose of this report is to update Members on:
- The existing legislative framework for addressing on street drinking; and
- Part 5 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 which has not been formally commenced in Northern Ireland.
1.2 For Members’ information the issue raised reads as follows:
“Belfast City Council is concerned that being reported to the Courts, the only penalty in the Bye-Law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on the city’s streets, is on its own proving wholly ineffective and criminalises those with an addiction".
Accordingly, Belfast City Council supports a change in the legislation to give Police and Council Officers the power to confiscate alcohol being consumed on the street in contravention of the Bye-Law, with persistent offenders being reported to the Courts.”
1.3 For Members’ information, please see below a summary of the number of summons issued for on street drinking prosecutions taken by Belfast City Council in recent years. Prosecutions can be disposed of either by way of fine, conditional discharge or formal caution.
2.1 The Committee is asked to
· Consider the contents of the report and;
· Consider writing to the Department of Justice and the Department for Communities incoming Ministers to advocate undertaking a review of the effectiveness of the existing legal framework in tackling on street drinking, to consider additional powers which could complement or enhance those currently available in Northern Ireland.
3.0 Main report
Existing Legal Framework
3.1 Section 90 of the Local Government Act (NI) 1972 – Belfast City Council has the powers to make bye-laws. Under this provision the Council created a bye-law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol within a designated alcohol free area. The majority of areas in Belfast are designated as alcohol free areas and upon summary conviction a person found guilty of breach of these bye-laws will be liable to a fine not exceeding £500.
Responsibility – DSD (Now Department for Communities)
Enforced by – PSNI and Council
3.2 Policing and Crime Act 2009 – The PSNI can confiscate opened and unopened alcohol from minors. Young people under 18 can be prosecuted for persistently possessing drink in a public place and if caught three or more times within a 12 month period could face a maximum penalty of a £500 fine. Police can bring a minor under the age of 16 home if they suspect that they have been consuming alcohol.
Responsibility – DoJ
Enforced by – PSNI
3.3 Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 – It is an offence to be drunk in a public place; and
The Justice Act (NI) 2011 – The PSNI can issue a fixed penalty notice to those over the age of 18 for being drunk in a public place or for disorderly behaviour.
Responsibility – DoJ
Enforced By – PSNI
3.4 Other supporting legislation is in place.
The Licensing Order 1996 requires a premises to apply to the County Court for a license to sell alcohol (Responsibility Department of Communities and enforced by PSNI)
Article 67 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 provides test purchasing powers to enable police officers to identify any licensed which may be selling alcohol to under 18 year old persons. This scheme is temporarily suspended pending a review by PSNI (Responsibility DoJ and enforced by PSNI)
Existing Legislation Not Commenced
3.5 Part 5 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 does provide powers to Police to confiscate alcohol in a designated public place and extend the power to issue fixed penalties under such offences to Police. That power does not extend to Council officers.
3.6 Part 5 of this Order was created by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Department of Social Development to address challenges in the existing bye-laws.
3.7 The intended advantages of the 2008 provisions were primarily:
· They would permit confiscation of alcohol in closed as well as open containers;
· The new offence would offer discretion to police – consumption itself would not necessarily be prosecuted
· It would not be necessary to catch the person in the specific act of consumption;
· A fixed penalty notice scheme would be created to allow for a speedier and more efficient process; and
· To focus on anti-social drinking in designated areas as opposed to a widespread prohibition of consumption of alcohol in public.
3.8 However, commencement of Part 5 has not been progressed because of difficulties with the legislation itself and the implementation which were:
· Existing bye-laws would no longer apply and Councils would be required to consult, re-designate zones and replace existing signage;
· The Council could only designate areas in which consumption of alcohol was prohibited where it is satisfied that nuisance or public disorder could be associated with the consumption of alcohol in that place;
· The potential need to retain the alcohol and its container for evidential purposes if a person refused a fixed penalty notice and the need to ensure this process complied with Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1989.
3.9 Members may also wish to note that the Licensing of Pavement Cafes Act (NI) 2014 will come into operation on the 1st October 2016. From that point onwards the operation of a pavement café will be subject to a licence granted by the Council.
3.10 Section 29 of that Act allows alcohol to be consumed by customers whilst using the furniture within a licensed pavement café; unless a Licence Condition has been applied to the Pavement Café Licence prohibiting the consumption of intoxicating liquor.
3.11 The premise must be Licensed under the Licensing (NI) Order 1996. These premises include:-
a public house (Article 5(a);
a guest house which has a restaurant;
a public transport refreshment area
3.12 Section 29 also allows alcohol to be consumed in Alcohol Bye-Law designated areas. This provision has been included so as to avoid the need for the Council to make new Bye-Laws, should they decide to authorise pavement cafes to operate in those designated areas.
Points for Consideration
3.13 Members may wish to consider the following:
· What is Council’s specific aim with regard to on street drinking?
· Would the commencement of Part 5 the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 these powers achieve that aim?
· If so, should the Council request that those powers be extended to Council officers?
· Would Council officers require other ancillary powers to effectively enforce Part 5 the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008?
· Would new primary legislation be more appropriate? If so should the support of other councils be sought to present a case to the Department of Justice for new primary legislation?
· Is there other legislation already in place in other parts of the UK that could address the issues caused by on street drinking? For example, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which provides that a Council can designate a Public Spaces Protection Order which would prohibit specific activities within a designated area. It applies in England and Wales and has been used to prohibit activities such as:
· consumption of alcohol
· aggressive begging
· public urination
· street entertainment which may cause a nuisance
· Dog fouling
3.14 Financial and Resource Implications
3.15 Equality or Good Relations Implications
None at present.”
The Committee adopted the recommendations, as set out within the report.