Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Anti-social drinking

Anti-social drinking

Anti-social drinking in the streets can intimidate members of the public, cause disorder and nuisance, and generally degrade a public space. This can range from groups of street drinkers, sometimes known as 'drinking schools', to general drunken or rowdy behaviour as part of the night-time culture of many towns and cities.

The impact of anti-social drinking

The National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy calculated the overall annual cost of crime and anti-social behaviour linked to alcohol misuse to be £7.3bn. Alcohol misuse shows strong links to violence.

Street drinking can be perceived as intimidating by others. Alcohol misuse is linked to disorder and contributes to an increase in people's fear of crime; there is a perception that alcohol-related violence on the streets is increasing, and some members of the public see drinking on the street as a problem. Many people are therefore less, rather than more, likely to want to spend time in city centres perceived as violent and dominated by alcohol.

What action can be taken?

Where someone is causing alarm and distress through their drunken behaviour, it may be necessary to protect the community using an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) in Scotland or Northern Ireland, a Public Spaces Protection Order in England and Wales or an injunction. These can be used to exclude perpetrators from the area where they have been causing a problem and/or from areas where they can obtain alcohol.

Drinking in licensed premises

England & Wales

Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 an injunction can be obtained to stop a person from engaging in anti-social behaviour, including banning them from entering premises if it is likely that they will commit such behaviour there.

Northern Ireland

Under the Licensing (Northern Ireland Order) 1996, the holder of a licence, their servant or agent can refuse to admit or expel any person from a licensed premises if they are drunk , acting in a disorderly manner or in any way that would subject the holder of the licence to a penalty under the Order. If the person fails to leave they will be fined up to £2,500 or imprisoned for up to six months.

Street drinking

People who are drunk and causing anti-social behaviour can also be arrested as drunk and disorderly, drunk in a highway or causing harassment, alarm or distress under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 or Articles 18 and 19 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. Some police authorities refer those arrested and on bail, for alcohol treatment. Penalty notices for disorder can also be an effective way to deal with these offences.

ASBOs (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and injunctions (England and Wales) can also be an effective way to ban an individual from a licensed premises where they have been causing disruption and disorder. Where someone is convicted in court for violent behaviour on licensed premises, the court should always consider banning them from that and other relevant premises. This can be necessary to protect the staff and customers of the licensed premises.

Area based orders

In England, Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), or in Northern Ireland, Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs), give local authorities powers to designate places where restrictions on public drinking will apply. These are available in areas that have experienced alcohol-related disorder or nuisance. Over 90 areas across the country have now introduced controlled drinking zones, ranging from small areas to city-wide.

Alcohol treatment requirements for offenders

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 makes available to the courts an Alcohol Treatment Requirement (ATR) as one of the possible requirements of a Community or Suspended Sentence Order. In Northern Ireland, under the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, where a court is proposing to make a probation order, it can impose a requirement that the offender attend treatment for alcohol dependency. In England and Wales, the court does not have to be satisfied that the offender's dependency on alcohol caused or contributed to the offence for which they have been convicted to impose the ATR or treatment. However, the court must be satisfied that:

  • The offender is dependent on alcohol
  • The dependency on alcohol requires, and may be susceptible to, treatment
  • Arrangements have been made, or can be made, for the treatment intended to be specified in the order
  • The offender expresses their willingness to comply with its requirements

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