Earlier this year the NI Executive announced plans to reform the NI liquor licensing laws. In July the Department described these changes as a balanced package of measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse, promoting responsible consumption and providing support for the hospitality industry and tourism.
On Monday 19 October 2020 the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill was finally published as it was introduced in the Assembly by Finance Minister Conor Murphy on behalf of Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.
The Bill had its first stage and this marks the start of the legislative process to bring about these important and long awaited changes to NI liquor licensing laws.
Contents of the Bill:
The Bill proposes a number of changes to NI’s liquor licensing laws. Among the key proposed changes contained in the Bill as published are
Changes to Permitted Hours and Easter Opening - Part 1 (1-5)
- This section provides for the introduction of an occasional additional late opening hour which will allow certain licensed premises houses to serve alcohol until 2am.
- An extension of drinking-up time to allow some premises to open until 3am;
- Abolishes the formerly restrictive Easter opening hours to bring it in line with the rest of the year;
- Under the new bill as proposed the number of occasions for late opening in small pubs will be increased to 85 per year.
Major Events - Part 1 (6)
- In recognition of what an important driver major events are in developing the tourism industry, this section will allow the Department to designate an event as a “special/major” event and to subsequently vary the permitted hours and allow certain off-sales at the event;
- The Department under this section will have the power to apply the provisions to Northern Ireland as a whole or to certain specific areas.
New category of licence for local producers - Part 1 (8)
- Under current licensing law local breweries distilleries are not included in the categories of premises that can be granted a licence;
- This section of the bill introduces a new category of licence for premises such as breweries, cideries and distilleries;
- This will allow local drinks producers to sell their products directly to the public in limited circumstances for consumption off the premises;
- This section also provides that local producers will be able to provide a sample free of charge during a tour of the premises.
New rules about display of Licence - Part 1 (14-15)
- As proposed the bill will introduce number of requirements for the Conduct of licensed premises meaning that Restaurants and guest houses will have to display licence conditions at all times in the premises.
- The new bill proposes an offence for non-compliance with this requirement with the holder of a licence being liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 and 3 -4 penalty points attaching to the licence.
New rules around Alcohol Advertising- Part 1 (16-18)
The current law is silent on the advertising of alcoholic drinks by supermarkets and off sales premises. The proposed restrictions contained in this bill will:
- Prohibit advertising of alcoholic drinks within the vicinity of the premises;
- Restrict advertising materials relating primarily to alcohol products to the licensed area of supermarket and will prevent supermarkets and off sales premises advertising alcoholic drinks offers anywhere other than within the licensed area of their premises.
- Another change introduced in this section is that Loyalty schemes used by many retailers in the form of a points system, will no longer be allowed to be gained in the purchase of alcohol and any rewards will not be permitted to be exchanged for alcohol.
Changes to Requirements of Body Corporates – Part 1 (20)
- Under current law there is no requirement for a director of a corporate body holding a liquor licence to notify the court that they have been convicted of a criminal offence.
- It is proposed that changes to the directorship of a body corporate must be notified to the courts as is the case for individual licensees.
- Therefore any change to directorship must be notified to Police and Court in Northern Ireland within 28 days.
Formal approval for codes of practice on responsible retailing- Part 1 (19)
The bill gives the Department power to approve new industry led Codes of practice and failure to adhere to these codes may impact on renewal applications or new applications for licence holders.
The introduction of this bill and the long awaited proposed modernisation of liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland will provide a welcome boost to the hospitality industry at a time when it is experiencing a four week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.
In welcoming the introduction of the Bill Communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín stated
“This Bill will now move through the legislative process and be scrutinised by Assembly colleagues, but I hope it gives those in the industry assurance that we are working to modernise the sector. I appreciate that we are currently working our way through the Covid crisis but I am confident that the Bill will provide a more flexible licensing framework that will undoubtedly assist the sector to rebuild following the Covid crisis, when our society can operate under more normal circumstances.
“This Bill has attempted to strike a balance between recognising the role licensed premises have in their local community as places to socialise and as providers of employment, alongside ensuring protections are in place to help tackle the harms that alcohol can cause in our society.”
The Bill will have its Second Stage in the Assembly on 3 November 2020. Subject to any amendments it is likely the bill will become law early in the New Year and hopefully allow the sector to experience a much more positive 2021.
TLT has extensive experience in licensing matters in Northern Ireland and in the jurisdictions of England & Wales and Scotland.
If you would like to discuss your requirements, please get in touch with Kevin Murphy or Eoin Devlin at our Belfast office.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.