Northern Ireland Executive announces proposed major changes to liquor licensing laws


In what will be a major boost to the Northern Ireland hospitality industry, Department for Communities Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, has announced that the NI Executive has agreed a new liquor licensing Bill to be brought before the NI assembly later this year following a consultation in 2019. 

The Department has described the Bill as a balanced package of measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse and promoting responsible consumption, alongside measures which will provide vital support for the hospitality industry, and assist it in supporting tourism.

Key proposals

The Bill proposes a number of changes to NI’s liquor licensing laws. 

Among the key proposed changes for the sector are;

  • Introduction of an occasional additional late opening hour which will allow certain licensed premises houses to serve alcohol until 2am.
  • An extension of drinking-up time to allow some premises to open until 3am;
  • Abolishing the formerly restrictive Easter opening hours to bring it in line with the rest of the year;
  • The alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems;
  • Changes relating to children on licensed premises;
  • Prohibition of self-service and vending machines;
  • Formal approval for codes of practice on responsible retailing; and
  • Changes to allow local drinks producers to sell their products directly to the public in limited circumstances.

One of the biggest proposed changes announced will be the introduction of an occasional additional late opening hour for certain licensed premises. 

Under the current law, normal trading hours for licensed premises are 11.30am – 11.00pm on weekdays, 12.30pm – 10.00pm on Sunday or Christmas Day. As well as this, some licensed premises currently may apply to the court for late opening hours to allow them to open to 1.00am on weekdays and Saturday and 12.00am on Sundays with 30 minutes drinking up time. 

The new proposals will allow licensed premises to apply for an additional hour to serve alcohol until 2.00am with drinking up time being extended until 3.00am on Friday and Saturday nights.

Another significant change is regarding Easter opening hours for public houses. Currently, public houses can only trade between 5.00pm – 11.00pm on Good Friday and are unable to serve alcohol after midnight on the Thursday before Easter and on Easter Saturday. The new proposals will remove these restrictions and make the rules around Easter hours consistent with the rest of the year.

These changes have been consistently called for over many years and has been welcomed by the industry, most notably by Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, who has commented: "the progress of the Liquor Licensing Bill by the new Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin is the most significant change to licensing laws in a generation, and is an important development at a time when the industry is facing significant challenges as a result of coronavirus.".

Conclusion

A number of weeks after being permitted to reopen on 3 July 2020.  Many bars, public houses and restaurants have now reopened having taken innovative steps to adjust to the ‘new normal’ with new initiatives such as table service and greater utilisation of outdoor spaces such as pavement cafes and beer gardens. 

The modernisation of liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland will no doubt provide a welcome uplift to the hospitality industry at a time when it is attempting to map out a road to recovery this year and beyond. 

It is expected that the new Liquor Licensing Bill will enter the legislative process in the next few weeks, with real progress being made when the Assembly returns from its summer recess in the autumn. Once given final approval, it is expected that bars and public houses throughout Northern Ireland will be able to benefit from early 2021.

TLT has extensive experience in licensing matters in Northern Ireland and in the jurisdictions of England & Wales and Scotland. 

If you would like to discuss your requirements, please get in touch with Kevin Murphy or Eoin Devlin at our Belfast office.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.


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