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The Policing and Crime Act 2009 received Royal Assent on 13 November 2009 and gives Police Officers* new powers to tackle underage drinking in public places. It has amended powers under the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 and created a new offence of being persistently in possession of alcohol in a public place.

(*This also includes Police Community Support Officers and Accredited Persons under the Police Reform Act 2002).

 

CONFISCATION OF ALCOHOL FROM PERSONS UNDER 18

The Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 gives Police Officers the power to seize alcohol from anybody that they reasonably suspects to be under the age of 18 who is found in possession of it in a public place. It also gives officers the power to seize alcohol from any person aged over 18 if they believe that all or part of the alcohol is intended to be supplied to a person under 18. It is a criminal offence for a person to refuse to surrender the alcohol in their possession.

Section 29 of the Crime and Policing Act has given officers an additional power in relation to the confiscation of alcohol from under 16s. If an officer seizes alcohol from somebody that they reasonably believe is under 16 they now have the power to take that person home or to another place of safety. This new power allows officers to deal with those young people who are most vulnerable by virtue of their age and in effect formalises a long standing practice where officers have taken young people home.

 

PERSISTENTLY POSSESSING ALCOHOL IN A PUBLIC PLACE 

Section 30 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 created a new offence of Persistently Possessing Alcohol in a Public Place. The Act states that: A person under the age of 18 is guilty of an offence if, without reasonable excuse, the person is in possession of alcohol in any relevant place on 3 or more occasions within a period of twelve consecutive months (a relevant place is defined as any public place or any place, other than a public place, to which the person has unlawfully gained access). This now means that if a young person has alcohol seized from him/her at least three times they commit the offence for which they can be prosecuted. This legislation is directed at young people specifically and if found guilty they will be liable to a fine not exceeding £500. They will also have a criminal record.

 

In practice the Police will take a three stage approach to dealing with those found in possession of alcohol in a public place: 

Stage One:

When dealing with a one-off instance, officers should confiscate the alcohol from the young person and, if felt necessary, take that young person home if they are under 16. A letter will then be sent to the young person's parents giving details of the incident via the Anti-Social Behaviour Team. A copy of this letter will also be sent to the Youth Offending Team for their information.

 

Stage Two:

When dealing with a repeat instance of possession of alcohol underage, the young person will be made the subject of an Acceptable Behaviour Contract and other specifically targeted interventions, such as attendance at an alcohol misuse course, will be considered if appropriate. Again the Youth Offending Team will be informed. At this stage parents may be directed to parenting courses or other family support services. They may also be made subject to Parenting Contracts (much the same as an ABC).

 

Stage Three:  

Young people who persistently drink or possess alcohol in a public place may be prosecuted for the offence. At this stage depending on the circumstances applications may be made for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order for the young person and also a Parenting Order for their parents.

The purpose of this offence is to reduce crime and disorder caused by persistent and unsupervised drinking by young people by making it clear that there are penalties to those who are causing problems in their community. The three stage approach has been adopted to highlight the consequences of their behaviour to the young people concerned and to also allow agencies to work together to intervene and support them where necessary.