Irish Times – Review of penalties ordered for staff who serve drunk patrons

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has ordered a review of the penalties which can be imposed on publicans for serving alcohol to customers who are already drunk.

His decision follows the acquittal yesterday of two bar staff accused of the manslaughter of a customer who died from alcohol intoxication. Gary Wright (34) and Aidan Dalton (28) were cleared at Nenagh Circuit Criminal Court after a five-day trial for the manslaughter of 26-year-old Graham Parish from East Lancashire, who died following a night of heavy drinking at Hayes Hotel in Thurles, Co Tipperary on June 30th, 2008. Their acquittal was made on the direction of Judge Tom Teehan.

While the two men were charged with common law manslaughter, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 allows for fines of up to €1,500 to be imposed on publicans who serve alcohol to drunken customers.

In light of the case, Mr Shatter has ordered a review of the penalties available under the 2003 Act, his spokeswoman said. This will take place in the context of the current overhaul of the licensing laws.

The case prompted calls for greater action by publicans to curb irresponsible drinking by customers. Alcohol Action Ireland, a charity which works on drink-related issues, called for mandatory training for bar staff and pub-owners.

Labour TD Robert Dowds said there was a responsibility on pubs to ensure that drink was consumed responsibly.

However, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which represents 4,500 publicans outside Dublin, said it was satisfied the laws on the sale of alcohol in licensed premises were strictly adhered to in the majority of cases. Publicans had shown their commitment to the responsible sale and consumption of alcohol by attending training programmes on the subject in their thousands, according to the federation.

In the case, Judge Teehan said that while the two men were grossly negligent in allowing Mr Parish be served a single drink containing at least eight measures of spirits, the State had failed to prove that this caused his death. Citing issues of personal responsibility, the judge said Mr Parish had decided to consume the drink and this was a “supervening event” which broke the chain of causation between the accused’s gross negligence and his death.

Licensing law expert Constance Cassidy SC said the case broke new ground because it represented the first attempt by the State to argue that a service provider should be held criminally responsible for the endangerment of life caused by a product. “It represented a worrying departure from the notion of personal responsibility and was recognised as such by the judge,” she said.

Source: The Irish Times, 13/05/11
Journalist: Paul Cullen