Thursday, August 19, 2010

More creeping prohibition?

Worrying story from Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph (3 August 2010) about drugs and alcohol testing in pubs and clubs:

'Revellers including teenagers were tested for drugs and alcohol as part of a police crackdown on pubs and clubs. Police have been "stamping down hard" on the abuse of alcohol and alcohol legislation with a force-wide operation since March, including breathalysing more than 90 youngsters attending an under-18s disco in Kettering. The breathalyser test carried out in May was not compulsory and several youngsters chose not to undergo the test – but they were not allowed admission to the venue. Of the 96 youngsters who agreed to take the test, 14 tested positive for alcohol and were spoken to and offered advice by officers. Sgt Ian Fletcher, of Northamptonshire Police, said: "Some of the kids ran off rather than be breathalysed but our attendance sent out a strong message."

... Officers also drug-tested more than 120 people in town centre pubs and clubs in one night. Of the 126 people officers checked, people in nine premises tested positive for class A drugs'.

I'm not sure what powers, if any, the police have to do this. I believe it is voluntary to undertake them, but then again I can't believe that anybody would freely consent to being tested if they knew they'd taken something they shouldn't have. No doubt the police involved fudge the legal niceties.

Meanwhile, Lewisham Council in South London is proposing to trial 'a borough-wide Designated Public Place Order (or Drinking Control Zone)' which 'will give police discretionary powers to stop people and confiscate, demand and dispose of any alcohol within the boundaries of Lewisham borough'. Failure to comply with a request from the Police to hand over alcohol would result in arrest and/or a fine of up to £500. As I argued over at Transpontine:

'There are some broader issues at stake here. The first is the use of arbitrary police powers. The historical relationship between police, courts and the individual in the UK requires the police to present evidence of wrong doing to a court, with the person accused having the right to defend themselves before a judgement is made on their guilt and a sentence passed. With the DPPO, the police officer isFont size judge, jury and 'executioner' - they can impose a punishment on the spot, such as pouring away somebody's drink, with the person affected having no right to question their authority or decision before 'sentence' is implemented. Worse, under the Police and Criminal Justice Act 2001 (which gave Council's powers to introduce DPPOs), these arbitrary powers can be extended to other 'authorised officers' such as park wardens.

The second wider issue is the creeping hyper-regulation of public space. The nature of public spaces is that people engage in lots of different behaviours and activities, some of which other people may find irritating, annoying or even mildly offensive. As long as people aren't actually harming others, they should be left to get on it. Just because some people disapprove of others' actions is no reason to ban them. Just because a few people engaging in an activity do cause harm to others is no reason to band everybody from that activity. In this case the 'drunk and disorderly' behaviour of a few people, already covered by existing laws, is being used as the basis to affect everybody's right to drink in public. It may not be a total booze ban, but it does mean that drinking in public is only permitted if the police choose to allow it'.

The Manifesto Club have lots of information about Designated Public Order Orders and their implementation elsewhere, as well as some good arguments against them.

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