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Solving the puzzle of the Spirit Licence Act

Inside Parliament

Balford Henry

Sunday, November 25, 2012    

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THE Senate passed two amendments to the Spirit Licence Act on Friday, but from the ensuing debate, it appears that the Bill amending the Act will not do as much as it was intended.

In fact, it seems that with the passage of the legislation, bar and tavern operators are now free to open their establishments whenever they wish and close at whatever hour they choose.

It was interesting to see senators rising to applaud the new "late" opening hours for bars and taverns, when no such hours were proposed, except a two-hour extension from midnight to 2:00 am for persons who have applied and received permission from the police to hold dances/parties under the Noise Abatement Act.

Section 34 of the principal Act, states:

"Hours of Opening and Closing Licensed Premises: The hours for keeping open town and village retail houses, taverns and hotels, respectively shall be as follows -- town retail house, between seven o'clock in the morning and nine o'clock at night on weekdays only; village retail house between seven o'cIock in the morning and nine o'clock at night on weekdays only;

taverns between seven o'clock in the morning and eleven o'clock at night on weekdays, on Sundays between three o'clock and six o'clock in the afternoon and between eight and ten o'clock at night;

hotels between seven o'clock in the morning and midnight on weekdays and Sundays."

Section 2 of the new Bill, which was tabled by Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding, and which repeals Section 34 of the principal Act replaces it with the following:

"The Minister may, by order published in the Gazette, prescribe --

(a) the hours for keeping open premises licensed under this Act;

(b) subject to section 35, the extended hours in respect of which the Superintendent (of police) may grant a special licence for keeping open premises licensed under this Act; and

(c) the days on which premises licensed under this Act, are permitted to be open for the activities authorised under the licence."

With the repeal of Section 34 of the Act, the opening hours stated above have been nullified by the Senate, and the minister given the authority to issue an Order setting new opening times. Except that the order was not brought to the Senate Friday, so there are new opening hours for bars, taverns and bars in hotels under the Spirit Licence Act replacing what was there before.

However, the amendment to section 35 of the Act was very clear and transparent. The current provisions read:

"It shall be lawful for the Superintendent, on an application being made to him in writing, to grant any licensed retailer or tavern keeper within the parish a special - licence to keep his premises open until midnight on any special occasion and for any special reason on any week day; but such licence shall only apply for the day for which it is granted and the proof of any such special licence in any proceedings taken for an offence against this Act shall be on the defendant.

This section is being amended to read:

"Section 35 of the principal Act is amended by --

(a) deleting the word "midnight" and substituting therefore the words "the hours prescribed by the Minister pursuant to section 34(b), being an hour not later than two o'clock in the morning; and

(b) deleting the words "on any weekday".

This amendment means that persons who seek a permit from the police to keep dances, parties and round robins, by applying to the superintendent, can now legally keep going until 2:00 am without police interference.

However, as Opposition Senator Kavan Gayle pointed out to the Minister, the police have been allowing these venues to keep their sessions going until 2:00 am for years, once they have a police permit, so was the Bill in fact to legitimise this action?

Senator Golding did not respond to that question, but he responded to another query raised by Gayle, asking what was the genesis of the 2:00 am cut-off time.

"It is in the Noise Abatement Act," Golding said.

And so, in this relatively brief response, Senator Golding had explained the primary reason for the whole exercise: To bring the closing time for dances/parties under the Spirit Licence Act, which covers the operation of bars and taverns, in line with the 2:00 am closing time for dances/parties under the Noise Abatement Act, and give the bars a better chance to compete with the night clubs and dance halls.

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