Licence holders — are you aware of your legal obligations on the responsible service of alcohol?

Licence holders — are you aware of your legal obligations on the responsible service of alcohol?

The recent criminal prosecution of hotel bar staff on charges of the unlawful killing of a customer who died from acute intoxication was the first of its kind in this jurisdiction. The deceased died after consuming eight measures of various spirits in a pint glass. The concoction was served by the duty bar man who had enquired whether it was in order to do so with the duty manager.

The Court’s directions

Despite a finding of gross negligence in the discharge of their duties, the Court directed the jury to an acquittal on the basis of a ‘supervening event’ i.e. the deceased had made a personal decision to consume the alcohol.

The case has resulted in the Minister for Justice commissioning a review of the current penalties which can be imposed on publicans for serving alcohol to customers who are drunk.

The current legislation

Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2003, it is an offence for a licensee to:

  •  Supply or permit any person to supply intoxicating liquor to a drunken person or to any person for consumption by a drunken person;
  •  Permit a drunken person to consume intoxicating liquor;
  • Permit drunkenness to take place in the bar; or
  • Admit any drunken person to the bar.

The penalties

The current penalties for conviction of the above offences are:

  •   Fines of up to €3,000 for a first offence or €5,000 for a second offence;
  •   Mandatory temporary closure order;
  •   Possible endorsement of the licence;
  •   Possible forfeiture of the licence where there are 3 current convictions on the licence.

The approach taken in other jurisdictions

Other jurisdictions including England, Scotland, Australia and the United States have legislation for similar offences.

What is noteworthy is the growth of responsible alcohol training in North America and Australia.  This is a form of occupational education provided to licensees (and their employees) and is mandatory in a number of American and Australian States.

It is founded on the concept of the duty of care and requires staff to take all reasonable precautions to protect customers from suffering alcohol intoxication.

On foot of the case mentioned above, Alcohol Action Ireland has already called for mandatory training on the service of alcohol.

The exposure

While the two men charged for manslaughter were acquitted, a civil case for damages has been taken by the deceased’s family against the licence-holder.  That case has not yet been concluded. However, the burden of proof in civil cases is much lower than in  criminal cases and if the licence holder is found to have been negligent, an award of damages is likely to be made against them.

As set out above, licence holders may be exposed to serious legal consequences as a result of the negligent service of alcohol on their premises. Therefore, it would be prudent to carry out a review of operational policies to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to minimise any risk of litigation.

If any of the above issues are relevant to you or your business and you require further information, please contact Lorraine Rowland, solicitor, Reddy Charlton at


This information is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication. No liability is accepted by Reddy Charlton for any action taken in reliance on the information contained herein. Any and all information is subject to change.

Peter Kearney
Author: Peter Kearney