Owners of pubs, restaurants and bottle stores are in for a wake-up as proposed new legislation holds them accountable for the drunken deeds of their customers. The legal drinking age could also be upped from 18 to 21.
Department of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies yesterday cited a New Zealand study, which found that car crashes increased as a result of decreasing the drinking age from 20 to 18. Studies had proven minors who started drinking earlier were more susceptible to brain damage because their brains hadn’t fully developed, he added.
Explaining the proposed National Liquor Amendment Bill, released for public comment on Friday, Davies said it was time to deal with alcohol abuse in the country. “We think we have a very significant alcohol abuse problem in this country and business as usual is not going to crack it because business as usual, according to our information, is not making it better.
“It’s actually getting worse. We’ve got to do things differently,” he said.
This meant “severally” civil liability for legal wholesalers and retailers up to R100 000 or a maximum jail stay of five years. While the draft policy as it stands relates only to illegal enterprises, Davies said the department had also submitted that it apply to legal businesses too.
According to the proposal, which has been approved by Cabinet, a manufacturer or distributor would be criminally liable for selling booze to unlicensed retailers.
They would also have to answer for any death or injury to any person and physical damage to property caused as the result of drunkenness. But it gets worse.
“The unlicensed retailer who sells liquor to any person shall be jointly and severally liable for any harm contemplated in subsection one, irrespective of whether the harm resulted from the negligence on the part of such person,” the draft bill reads.
Davies said a stronger stance had to be taken against outlets that only consider the bottom line.
“If you are the owner of a [illegal or] legal outlet and people come along and they are drunk as hell and you couldn’t give a damn, it’s just the revenue you are concerned about and keep supplying them, then those people go and commit some kind of an offence afterwards, you’re going to be liable,” Davies said.
Restrictions on advertising hours and the proximity of drinking holes to schools and transport hubs would also be tightened up.