by Tim Lezard The government has blocked legislation designed to protect shop workers who sell alcohol. The issue was debated in the House of Lords on Monday night, when Lord Foulkes of Cumnock moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill …

Tim Lezard Europe, UK, UK unions,

Houses of Parliamentby Tim Lezard

The government has blocked legislation designed to protect shop workers who sell alcohol.

The issue was debated in the House of Lords on Monday night, when Lord Foulkes of Cumnock moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill calling on there to be stiffer sentences for those who assault workers selling alcohol.

Lord Foulkes said: “Those who serve alcohol are required by the Licensing Act 2003 to enforce that law. They must refuse to serve those who they believe to be under age, and those who are already intoxicated. They are working in febrile environments and are responsible, like police officers, for enforcing the law. If they refuse to do so, they themselves can face legal action or lose their licences. It is therefore unacceptable that these men and women receive no effective protection from the legal system for that additional service and the physical danger that it puts them in.

“They, like all workers, benefit from sentencing guidelines that makes the assault of a worker providing a public service one aggravating factor, but it is one of 19 aggravating factors, which is seldom acknowledged. This fails to acknowledge that those who serve alcohol place themselves in greater danger, and make a more vital contribution to public order and to public health, than most others in other professions. According to the Health and Safety Executive, alcohol was the trigger to threatened or actual violence in 38% of cases.

“The current regime has inadvertently produced a system which disincentivises prosecution and ends up being too lenient. At the moment, if a worker who sells alcohol is assaulted, the crime will usually fall into the category of common assault. The problem is that common assault carries relatively lenient punishments, meaning that in many cases the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to bother prosecuting.”

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: ‘I am very concerned but not surprised that yet again the government has blocked necessary protection for workers on the frontline of enforcing licensing laws.

“On four separate occasions Parliament has had the opportunity to toughen the law to better protect shopworkers, but each time the Tories and Liberals have refused to support the amendment. All too often we see criminals who have assaulted workers getting away with cautions or non-custodial sentences.

“It simply is not good enough for the Government to rely on Sentencing Council guidelines to tackle this problem. The public are not aware of these guidelines, so they offer no deterrent to attackers. Often the judiciary do not get the opportunity to use the guidelines because the police or Crown Prosecution Service have decided against cases going to court. However, we are not convinced that the judiciary are applying these guidelines even when cases do come before them.

“We need a simple stand-alone offence that provides stiffer penalties for those who assault workers selling alcohol – an offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS and judiciary. Despite this setback our campaign to protect shopworkers from violence threats and abuse continues, with support from across the alcohol sales industry.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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