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Spacer Spacer Submission to the Liquor Review 1996

Definition of Intoxication

Indicators, not definitions

  • Rather than a definition of intoxication in the legislation, the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit favours increasing the familiarity of police, licensees and all employees on licensed premises with indicators of intoxication, and appropriate server responses.
  • None of the overseas Acts examined defined intoxication, although lists of 'indicators of intoxication' are commonly used in host responsibility training (Williams 1991; Levy & Miller 1996). For example, the NSW licensing authority supplies information and signage to licensees which include the following signs of intoxication:
    1. A notable change in behaviour (especially towards anti-social or inappropriate behaviour)
    2. Slurring of, or mistakes in, speech
    3. Clumsiness, knocking things over (like a drink or ashtray) or fumbling with change
    4. A significant loss of coordination (usually staggering or swaying)
    5. A degree of confusion, a lack of understanding or ability to hear and a difficulty in responding
    6. Vomiting, violence and abusive behaviour.
  • Reactions to and behaviour following excess consumption of alcohol vary between individuals more than might be suggested by a tight legal definition including some or all of the above. Introducing a definition into the Act is likely to focus the attention of lawyers on its precise parameters, as has happened with matters of evidence, rather than the attention of licensees on responsible host practices, and the attention of police on prosecuting in cases of clear infringement. However, licensees should be experienced professionals responsible for their premises, who should be able to recognise the signs, be aware of how much the patron has consumed so far on the premises and, when in doubt, slow or refuse sales of alcohol.

Improved enforcement of present law

  • The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit supports improved enforcement of the present law on serving intoxicated persons, and recommends the above amendments to ease present difficulties in presenting evidence in prosecutions.
  • Research and news items from Britain, the US and Australia suggest that rates of sale and supply of liquor to intoxicated or underage persons can be lowered by increasing licensees' expectation of prosecution, through increased police visibility or a few successful prosecutions in the locality (Jeffs & Saunders 1983; Prevention File 1995; Stockwell 1993). In a number of US states, a licensee who serves an already intoxicated persons may be sued if a third party is injured or killed. This is also possible in Canada and one such case has been taken in Australia. The deterrent effects of licensee exceptions of sanctions is reflected in US research showing that dramshop liability laws correlate with lower traffic accident rates (Sloane et al. 1994).
  • The ability of police to successfully prosecute licensees for serving alcohol to intoxicated persons should be improved by strengthening their powers in relation to the presenting of evidence in court. The above proposals regarding the right to seize alcohol and the recognition of averment are drawn from several overseas liquor licensing Acts.
  • The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit supports introducing a formal linkage between infringements under the penal provisions of the Act and cancellation of the licence to sell liquor. (The word 'infringement' allows premises on the third offence 'on the balance of probabilities' of police evidence, rather than wait perhaps eight or nine months for the court decision, based on rules of evidence. This is in line with the recent legislative change allowing the Authority to close premises despite appeals to the court.)

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