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FOCUS: Another round? Hopes that promises to update Jersey's alcohol law won't run dry

FOCUS: Another round? Hopes that promises to update Jersey's alcohol law won't run dry

Tuesday 23 April 2024

FOCUS: Another round? Hopes that promises to update Jersey's alcohol law won't run dry

Tuesday 23 April 2024


A nightclub owner said Jersey's nightlife industry is “heading towards a cliff edge” after it was revealed that updates to the island's 50-year-old alcohol legislation won't occur until 2026.

The government has seen numerous appeals over the past two decades to update laws governing Jersey’s approach to alcohol, and to ease restrictions on alcohol promotions like two-for-one deals and happy hours.

However, despite extensive consultation and repeated promises of action by successive governments, progress in modernising the 1974 law has been slow and has led to frustration within the industry.

Law updates are "difficult and deeply complex"

The latest blow came earlier this month when Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel revealed that changes to the 1974 alcohol law are unlikely until 2026.

Despite consultations and reports produced by previous governments, and price promotions being approved by the States in 2020, Deputy Morel said another review is necessary due to the "difficult and deeply complex" nature of updating legislation.

However, no such review has taken place – even though it was outlined as one of Deputy Morel's ministerial priorities.

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Pictured: Rojo nightclub is set to close this summer, with the owner claiming that "basically everything is stacked against having a vibrant nighttime industry" in Jersey.

“I want to see this updated in consultation with industry to ensure we have a regulatory environment that allows the hospitality sector to thrive,” the Economic Development Minister said in a statement.

“Officers this year are undertaking scoping of this law.

“They are beginning to do work on the matters with regard to both licensing laws with a view to bringing amendments which would seek to simplify those laws.

“I would hope, certainly by 2026, that we would have both of those changes brought in, or at least lodged.”

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Pictured: ​Published at the end of last year, the Visitor Economy Strategy said the government will "review, consult on and if appropriate lodge proposed amendments to the Licensing Law, beginning with a review in 2024".

Express understands that the law will not be completely rewritten, with the Visitor Economy Strategy speaking of “amendments being lodged” rather than drafting a new law.

However, details regarding which aspects of the law are under review remain unclear.

“The nightlife industry is heading towards a cliff edge”

The owner of Beresford Street-based nightclub ROJO criticised the "outdated licensing law" in a post announcing his nightclub's closure. 

JP Anquetil pointed to declining audience numbers, rising costs, and excessive red tape as reasons behind the venue's decline.

In a social media post in November, he said: "We have an outdated licensing law that reflects the conservative and risk-averse culture of the island.

“Basically everything is stacked against having a vibrant nighttime industry."

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Pictured: Rojo owner JP Anquetil announced the nightclub's closure in a social media post in November.

When asked about progress since then, Mr Anquetil said that repeated promises had been made without any tangible results during his 20 years in business.

"I wouldn't hold your breath," he said. 

“The whole industry is a mess and it’s being shoved under the carpet. It is heading towards a cliff edge."

Mr Anquetil added: “The politicians do not have any concept of what young people want. They don’t have a scooby doo. They’re just paying lip service.

“We need to find a way of taking this out of politicians' hands so that the work is ongoing and doesn’t get ditched with every new government.”

Fourth time lucky?

Marcus Calvani, Co-CEO of the Jersey Hospitality Association, helped to redraft the alcohol law several three times in the past ten years – with each attempt falling through due to governmental change.

But he hopes that this year could be fourth time lucky.

He said that the government had agreed to talk about “alternative ways for the hospitality industry to move forward”, after plans to raise duty on beer, wine and spirits by 8.9% were announced last year.

Mr Calvani added that no action had yet been taken, explaining that the Jersey Hospitality Association had taken things into their own hands by organising a meeting with representatives from Home Affairs, Public Health, the States of Jersey Police, the Chief Minister, and the Bailiff's Chambers.

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Pictured: Marcus and Ana Calvani, Co-Chief Executive Officers of the Jersey Hospitality Association. (Max Burnett)

"We want to work with the government while also holding them accountable," he said.

"Everyone needs to be in the room so that we can come up with a better solution.

“People are increasingly drinking at home which actually increases consumption. They don’t measure their drinks and won't limit they're drinking because need to drive.

"There are also promotional deals on store-bought alcohol, which encourages people to pre-drink and to binge drink.”

Mr Calvani added: “We want to drive people back out and to make it more affordable. People can regulate themselves.

"There are trained staff in bars and clubs who can check on people and ensure they don’t drink too much.”

No “rush to create change”

DJ and event promoter Sam Tumkaew also spoke about the stifling effect of restrictive alcohol laws on the nightlife industry and called on the government to lift the ban on alcohol promotions.

The 27-year-old said: “The law needs to be updated. It's out of date, but it doesn't seem like there is a rush to to create change.

“Progress seems to be slow and unfortunately they will only realise that changes need to happen fast before it’s too late. So many young people have already left.

“It is frustrating that the government have been saying they’re going to do something when they haven’t."

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Pictured: Sam Tumkaew alongside 'The Loft' co-founder Francisco Brazao. (Rob Currie)

Mr Tumkaew, who co-founded local techno and house events company The Loft, believes that allowing drink promotions would encourage islanders to support the nightlife scene, and reduce binge drinking among youngsters who instead 'pre-drink' before they go out.

“The government think the problem is binge drinking, but people will either go away and spend money outside the economy, or drink more at home," he said.

“Having drinks promotions would allow event organisers and business owners to be more creative.

"It would allow them to put on things that people from all age groups would enjoy – like bottomless brunch or two-for-one cocktails.”

"It's a disgrace" 

Former politician Lindsay Ash, who was behind a previous push to update the law, thinks it is a "disgrace" that nothing has been done. 

In October 2020, his proposition to allow ‘happy hour’ and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ promotions on drinks for a limited time was approved by States Members.

Deputy Ash, whose campaign slogan was ‘Get on the L.Ash’, said he wanted to help the hospitality industry recover from the pandemic by allowing bars, pubs and restaurants to offer and advertise promotions on drinks until 31 December 2021.  

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Pictured: Deputy Lindsay Ash's proposal to introduce promotions in pubs for a limited time was approved but went no further.

During his speech to fellow politicans in 2020, he noted how the Assembly was “very good at not doing anything” as exemplified by the hospital project, Fort Regent and the Licensing Law.  

He also called for the States Assembly to gain control of licensing policy decisions, which currently rest in the hands of a panel of jurats known as the Licensing Assembly.

Deputy Ash also said that Constables, local rehabilitation charity Silkworth Lodge, and licensees should all be involved in licensing decisions – with the States Assembly being the ultimate decider.

States Members were overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal, with 35 votes ‘pour’ and three ‘contre'.

However, none of the amendments ever progressed any further. 

"It is astonishing," said Mr Ash. "Banning promotions prices people out of drinking and puts the pressure on those on a lower income.

"It also encourages people to drink at home rather than out, which increases the risk of domestic violence." 

The law so far

Now half a century old, the legislation governing how nighttime venues operate carries numerous restrictions on operating hours and drinks offers.

For example, no 'happy hours' or 'buy-one-get-one-free' offers are allowed, pubs must close at 23:00, and clubs must close at 02:00.

The law also includes the infamous 'no dancing' law on Good Friday when nightclubs are prohibited from playing music or allowing people to dance.

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Pictured: Replacing or updating the 1974 law with a new set of rules and regulations governing how the drinks trade is run, and policed, has been a long-running saga.

It also governs the permits given to licensed premises. 

Currently, licensing decisions are taken by a panel consisting of the Bailiff and Jurats known as the Licensing Assembly.

The panel is responsible for granting one of the seven rigid categories of licences to businesses that want to sell alcohol – including the taverner's license, residential, restaurant, comprehensive, club, off-license and entertainment license.

Business owners and islanders have long argued that this approach to alcohol in Jersey is outdated and in need of review, with the past 16 years seeing a string of failed attempts to reduce red tape around businesses serving alcohol. 

A Licensing Law consultation took place in 2009, resulting in the formation of a Shadow Alcohol Licensing Policy Group in 2012.

Two years later, a strategy was published recommending a new law. Then a slight tweak was made in 2016, before a 'white paper' emerged in 2017.

That draft included a controversial recommendation that the Jurat-populated Licensing Bench be replaced by a ‘Licensing Authority’ composed of seven States Members and three lay people.

However, that proposal ended up getting withdrawn on the basis that “not enough work had been done to scrutinise the legislation” and that stakeholders were "less than unanimous".

The closest attempt to update the law came in 2017 when Senator Steve Pallett brought a new draft law to the Assembly, but it was withdrawn over concerns about the lack of cohesive agreement and scrutiny.

Funding and support dried up, but in later Scrutiny panel hearings, States Members were still anticipating the day that the scrapped draft law "could be reincarnated in some form".

In October 2020, Deputy Lindsay Ash’s proposition to allow ‘happy hour’ and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ promotions on drinks for a limited time was approved by States Members.

After no progress was made on this, Jersey’s competition watchdog reviewed the rules banning drink promotions like 'happy hours' at the request of the Attorney General.

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Pictured: The 1974 Licensing Law sets out the island’s approach to alcohol and governs how licensed premises operate.

In a report published in March 2021, the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority said that restrictions on alcohol prices should be scrapped, and introducing responsible drinking promotions could help attract more customers.

In October 2022, Deputy Kirsten Morel published his Ministerial Plan which announced another review to ensure the law is ‘fit for purpose’, and enable new and existing businesses, entrepreneurs and social enterprises to operate efficiently within the sector. 

This time last year, he reaffirmed his commitment to updating the law and that it was still one of his priorities, saying that the review will follow the publication of the Visitor Economy Strategy and the Barriers to Business Reports.

Both of these were published in December 2023.  

TIMELINE...

2009 – The first licensing law consultation took place 

2012  Shadow Alcohol Licensing Policy Group (SALPG) formed

January 2014 – Alcohol and Licensing Strategy for Jersey launched

September 2014   Report on the Alcohol and Licensing Strategy published, including the draft of a new law with six licensing objectives

February 2016 – New Liquor Licensing Law consultation launched.

June 2017 – Assistant Economic Development Minister Constable Steve Pallett lodged a proposition for a new law in which the current Licensing Bench is replaced by monthly hearings from a Licensing Authority composed of a committee of seven States Members and three lay people (similar to a Planning Committee). 

March 2018 – the Draft Liquor Licensing (Jersey) Law, "a decade in the making", is withdrawn over concerns not enough work had been done to scrutinise the legislation and stakeholders were "less than unanimous".

November 2018 – now Senator Steve Pallett says there is "no progress" on a new law and no resources to continue the work

October 2020 – still Senator Pallett sets up a task and finish group to develop... another new draft law which he insists is "not a return to square one"

October 2020 – States Members approve Deputy Lindsay Ash’s proposition to allow ‘happy hour’ and ‘buy one get one free’ promotions on drinks for a period of 15 months to stimulate the post COVID-19 economy. However, this progressed no further

September 2021 – Jersey’s competition watchdog was asked to review the rules banning drink promotions like 'happy hours' at the request of the Attorney General

March 2021 The Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority published a report into the impact of alcohol pricing and drinks promotions on pubs, bars and nightclubs, as well as off-licenses on the island. It said that restrictions on alcohol prices should be scrapped, and introducing responsible drinking promotions could help attract more customers. However,  two local nightclub owners said that scrapping minimum alcohol prices and introducing ‘happy hour’ drinks promotions may do more harm than good for some businesses. 

October 2022 – Deputy Kirsten Morel publishes his Ministerial Plan which announces another review to ensure the law is ‘fit for purpose’ and enable new and existing businesses, entrepreneurs and social enterprises to operate efficiently within the sector

April 2023 – Deputy Kirsten Morel promises The Licensing Law review will follow the conclusion of the Visitor Economy Strategy and the Barriers to Business Review.

December 2023 – Publication of the Visitor Economy Strategy and the Barriers to Business review.

April 2024  Deputy Kirsten Morel reaffirms his commitment to updating the licensing law as part of our ongoing work to lower barriers to business.

READ MORE... 

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