At least one northern council – and possibly others – is publicly advising the owners of licensed premises to break the law. Is this a cynical attempt to avoid bad publicity? Or, as council officials describe the advice, simple "pragmatism"?
The issue arose last month, with reports in This is Cheshire that Corporal Jon Dykes of the 1st Mercian Regiment was turned away from the Friars Court pub in Warrington town centre despite carrying his army ID. The problem is that some licensing conditions stipulate exactly what forms of ID are acceptable as proof of age: if it's not on the list, it isn’t proof; and many older sets of conditions do not list military ID.
Unfortunately, as the paper also reports, soldiers "are often required to keep their passports and driving licences at their barracks so when they return home they only have their Army ID which has their date of birth on".
Earlier this year, Warrington Borough Council asked the owners of licensed premises in its area to allow military ID as proof of age: now pub owners have hit back, pointing out that Warrington are asking them to break the law – and in a way that could lead to them losing their license and livelihoods.
A spokeswoman for Warrington Brough confirmed this. She told the Reg: "The council and the Police, when monitoring how premises adhere to their licence, will have regard to whether actions are proportionate/fair and in the public interest.
"In a situation where a soldier, without other forms of ID, entered a licenced premise (and where there were no other factors of drunkenness or unruly behaviour), we would consider enforcement action against the premises owner for allowing military ID to be used, to be inappropriate and disproportionate.
"It is however important to be clear that we do not presently envisage any other instances in which we would not press ahead with enforcement action for other breaches - for example, we would always take appropriate action against licensed premises who were selling alcohol to underage people, or contravening other established conditions of their licence.
"We are aware that the government is looking specifically at the issue of military ID as a priority and we await further guidance; in the meantime we are working closely with the police and licensees to manage the situation."
On the one hand, this does appear to be a sensible and, as the Council says, "pragmatic" solution to a real problem. On the other, those who have been warning of over-regulation will see this as more evidence that government has got it wrong – and are likely to question whether licensees should have to depend on the informal goodwill of police and local authorities to avoid prosecution.
It is unlikely that the police would turn a blind eye to individuals deciding to take a "pragmatic" view of laws that are difficult to comply with – and it is certainly arguable that they should not do so in this case, merely to extricate the Council from an embarrassing situation. ®