Wednesday 7 December 2016

Review: Cassidy on the Licensing Acts, 3rd edition by Constance Cassidy SC

Clarus Press, €325

Published 14/11/2010 | 05:00

Ireland's Licensing Acts are an endless source of fascination and intrigue, not only here but also abroad.

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In March, the saga as to whether Limerick city publicans could serve alcohol on Good Friday for the Munster versus Leinster rugby match made international headlines and had thirsty rugby fans furrowing their brows as they perused the small print of the Licensing Acts for a loophole.

In 2008, a Galway District Judge declared that prosecuting restaurants for offering wine to diners on Good Friday was "ludicrous" and "ridiculous", and refused to convict any of the restaurant owners before her.

Tourist guidebooks and webpages bravely attempt to explain to confused visitors when they can expect to drink and when they cannot. Even lawyers regard the area as a minefield full of traps for the unwary advocate.

The publication of the third edition of Cassidy on the Licensing Acts will, therefore, be warmly welcomed by lawyers, rugby fans and tourists alike, not to mention anyone who has an interest in this wonderful area of law.

The first edition of the by-now famous text was inspired by the author's father Judge John Cassidy, who was regarded as the pre-eminent authority on the subject, although as his daughter modestly admits: "He taught me all I know about the law, but not, alas, all that he knew." That gap must surely now have closed to vanishing point thanks to the decade of research that Constance has ploughed into her third edition of the book.

The text is packed full of interesting information, and covers early attempts to regulate the provision of alcohol in bogs right up to Michael McDowell's vision of a cafe-bar society.

In the first licensing statute to affect Ireland in 1635, it was stated that the purpose of the Act was to address the excessive number of ale houses in the country, which had become "receptacles for rebels and other malefactors, and harbours for gamesters and other idle, disordered, and unprofitable livers".

Presumably, they were the very people that McDowell was hoping would be sipping from a bottle of Chateau Margaux as they discussed politics and philosophy on a sunny terrace in deepest Leitrim.

At the back of the book, one finds the consolidated text of all of the key Licensing Acts from 1833 onwards, with their amendments right up to the Intoxicating Liquor (National Conference Centre) Act 2010.

Of particular interest to anyone like me with a law and order bent is a table which sets out all of the relevant criminal offences, together with the penalties that can be imposed. I counted more than 200 separate criminal offences, which gives a good idea as to how important a reliable guide through this area of the law is.

These offences range from the well-known (ie permitting drinking after hours) to the bizarre: when was the last time you heard of someone being convicted for permitting tippling by journeymen during prohibited hours in a Dublin premises.

If you see such a thing, be sure to warn the perpetrators of the unflinching terms of section 19 of the Dublin Justices Act 1824. And anyone who commits the wonderfully described crime of making signals to persons engaged in illicit distilling of the approach of officers can expect to face up to six months imprisonment for a first offence and 12 for a second offence. You have been warned.

The third edition contains a number of new chapters, the subject matter of which provides a good guide to the types of issues that have been of concern to legislators in recent times. Chapter 29 deals with closure orders and explains all of the various circumstances in which the District Court can now shut down a licensed premises which is breaking the law.

Chapter 30 outlines the various measures that have been taken to try to combat under-age drinking, including the controversial new provisions that allow the gardai to use children as test-purchasers of alcohol.

Chapter 31 usefully brings together all of the relevant police powers; powers which are worth reflecting on since the gardai have an enormous say in who gets a licence and who does not.

Chapter 37 deals with the licensing regime for concerts and festivals, and, perhaps in anticipation of the author's own hosting of septuagenarian Leonard Cohen in Lissadell, explains that such events "attract enormous (mostly young) crowds". The relevant legislation for such events came into force in 2000 after the Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction to restrain two pop concerts in Lansdowne Road in 1997, in a case that highlighted the need for more specific legislation to address the issue.

Given that the procedural requirements regarding the grant, transfer and renewal of a licence are mandatory, a stiff drink will be needed by any faint-hearted lawyer after reading chapter 18, which sets out the complex rules of practice and procedure that apply to court applications in an admirably clear manner. And if it is the middle of the night before you have finished reading it, then chapter 15 will tell you how a late licence can be obtained.

I particularly enjoyed this chapter, since I have always been fascinated by the intricacies that lie behind why pubs, clubs, restaurants and theatres appear to operate under such varied hours.

Cassidy on the Licensing Acts is an immensely readable treasure trove of information. Not only is it an essential tool for anyone who practises or works in the area, but it is also a source of all sorts of interesting legal ideas and inspirations for occasional weekend tipplers, such as this reader.

Sunday Independent

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