Drinking and the law

Getting hammered is fun at the time, no doubt. But if you end up having a little too much fun you might wake up in the morning with a text from your mate saying you need to call a lawyer. Before heading for a night out, it’s important to know what the laws are when it comes to drinking. Let’s talk you through it, and save you some legal fees in the process.

A young man is sitting at a desk looking at his laptop. He is researching the drinking laws in the uk. He looks pensive. This is a wide-angle image.

Drinking in public UK 

Let’s face it; lots of people are drunk in public, it’s called the weekend. But just because Greg’s out there singing Deck the Halls in the middle of June, doesn’t mean you should. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, ‘simple drunkenness’ can be an offence if you’re in any public place, including licensed premises. However most of the drinking laws in the UK haven’t been updated for a while. For example, this Act is particularly tough on drunks in charge of pigs, sheep, cattle, and/or a steam engine. There has been a semi-recent (we’re talking 2014) development in public drinking called PSPOs which basically restricts you from drinking in certain areas – look up which one’s these are in your local area to avoid accidentally getting arrested. 

Public indecency while getting drunk

Although the 1872 Act might be a little out of date, your alcohol-fuelled antics could lead you to break other laws. Any public behaviour considered obscene, disgusting, or shocking in any way can be prosecuted. So if your drunken alter-ego decides it would be hysterical to bare your bits, have a sexcapade, or just to wee somewhere in public, you could find yourself sobering up in a police station, trying to justify your actions. Plus theft and vandalism are crimes, so the cheeky pilfering of a traffic cone or the destruction of your neighbours flowerbed is not only uninspired – it’s also illegal and could land you in trouble.

Keep in mind, these drinking laws UK could vary based on if you’re in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or England. For example, if police in Edinburgh tell you to stop drinking you better listen. Make sure you keep informed on the laws in the region you are living in / visiting. Honestly, it’s probably best to stick to drinking in licensed premises. 

Anger while getting drunk

You only came out for one… But then the rounds began, then the rounds of shots started, and then the anger came. That inexplicable, overwhelming and completely alcohol-induced anger. Suddenly you’re screaming into a complete stranger’s face. Well, not only are you at risk of everyone you know disowning you, you’re liable to arrest. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, you can be charged with drunkenness with aggravation or for being drunk and disorderly. So try switching to tap water before Anger takes control while Joy and Sadness get lost.

What if the landlord won’t serve me? 

No matter how much you insist you’re not wasted, a landlord is not permitted to serve alcohol to a drunk customer or permit you on the premises. Another of the drinking laws uk called the 2003 Licensing Act gives any licensee the power to refuse to sell alcohol, kick you out and even bar you. No arguments. The Act also outlaws anyone under 18 working behind a bar. 

Getting drunk while under-age  

Yes. If you are under 18, they can take it all – even that bottle of Smirnoff under your top. Under the 1997 Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act, if you’re underage and boozing in public, the police have the right to take away your drinks. They’re also entitled to tell Mum and Dad what you’ve been up to. Our advice would be to not even attempt to buy alcohol until you’re 18 and avoid the hassle of it all.

Drinking and fines 

If you get too wasted, your big night out is gonna be expensive. In an attempt to combat street crime, the 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act gives police officers the power to give you on-the-spot fines for public drunkenness. And if you don’t cough up the cash within the set period of time you will have to appear in court  or the fines will just keep piling up.

Getting an ASBO or Drinking Banning Order (DBO) 

If you are a re-offending drunk who’s cheeked the authorities one too many times, they might whack you with a drinking banning order. Similar to an Anti-social Behaviour Order, DBOs are designed to protect the public from people who regularly get wasted. You can get one if you are over the age of 16, and last from two months to two years. You’ll become a criminal if you buy alcohol, drink alcohol in public, or enter certain public areas.

Next Steps

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 10-Aug-2021