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Crackdown pledge on liquor licensing abuses

Juan Wolffe

The body responsible for issuing liquor licences has vowed to crack down on those who deliberately flout and abuse the system.

Senior Magistrate Juan Wolffe, who chairs the Liquor Licensing Authority, told The Royal Gazette the authority had noticed significant abuse of the system particularly involving occasional licences and members’ club licences.

He said a culture had developed where some thought applications would be rubber-stamped even if they were late or deficient.

Mr Wolffe added that while the authority was keen to work with applicants to help them understand the law, the authority would not tolerate flagrant abuse of the system.

“Unfortunately there is a great deal of flouting and abusing of the liquor licensing system, particularly when it comes to occasional liquor licences and members’ club licences,” he said.

“We have also heard of premises selling to minors and persons who are not TIPS certified serving alcohol.

“We want to rein in this abuse. We do not want to inhibit entrepreneurship but there will be zero tolerance for deliberate abuses of the law.”

The authority’s new membership was formed at the beginning of the year and is made up of nine members, three members for each district, as well as Mr Wolffe and deputy chair Peter Barrett. Mr Barrett acknowledged that parts of the 1974 legislation are out of date and said the authority hoped to provide recommendations on improving it.

“At present there is no penalty for late submissions of an application,” said Mr Barrett. “But if there was to be a $50 late fee you can be sure that the applications would be in on time. This must have been overlooked and we want to submit proposals on how the act can be improved.”

The authority has also dealt with cases where individuals have been granted members’ club licences, which impose the least amount of restrictions on a licencee, when they were not a members’ club at all.

“We will be asking members’ clubs to prove to us that they are bona fide members clubs,” said Mr Wolffe.

“We want to see their subscription books, their financial statements and ensure they really are members’ clubs. This is an area that we will be clamping down on.”

Liquor licences have to be submitted by March 14 to provide enough time for the necessary paperwork and hearings to take place for the licences to be issued by May 31 when licences expire.

Mr Wolffe urged applicants to read the Liquor Licensing Act online and understand the different types of liquor licences available. He added: “One of the problems is that people think they can get liquor licences for any old party. This is not correct it has to be for a social, benevolent or charitable purposes.

“We hope to increase the amount of enforcement by Police who have the ultimate sanction of shutting down an establishment but that is a last resort.

“There are a slew of enforcement measures that include a criminal conviction and fines, although the fines are quite paltry and do not provide a huge deterrent at present.

“What is important is that licensees have in mind consequences like undue noise, traffic flow problems, accumulation of trash and any disruption caused as a result of the misuse of alcohol and that these can jeopardise your licence.”