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EVERYDAY LAW: The burden of a barman

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

EVERYDAY LAW: The burden of a barman

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IN REVIEWING MY EMAIL for December last year I reflected on one of them which raised the issue of liability of servers of alcohol to customers and third parties.
The seriousness of this issue was highlighted earlier this year when the criminal court in Ireland had to consider the guilt of two barmen who were charged with the manslaughter of Graham Parish, an Englishman who died at A hotel (where he was a guest) after excessive consumption of alcohol.
Parish, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, reportedly drank about nine pints and ten measures of alcohol in a binge at the bar of the hotel where he was a guest.
It was said that the deceased drank a mix of at about eight shots in one glass and it was found that his death was the result of the consumption of alcohol.
He was drinking along with five others and the barman who served him said that he thought that the cocktail was being shared among the group.
The judge decided that the barmen owed the duty of care to  Parish, which they breached, and were guilty of gross negligence.  However, he found that their gross negligence was not the cause of Parish’s death since Parish had taken a drink of his own free will. This deliberate decision by Parish was a supervening event which broke the chain of causation and therefore the barmen did not cause Parish’s death.In Ireland it is an offence to knowingly sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk. It is also an offence to “knowingly” allow alcohol to be sold to a person who is drunk.
Under our Liquor Licence Act it is an offence for a licencee to permit drunkenness or any violent, quarrelsome, disorderly or riotous conduct to take place on the licensed premises, or to sell liquor to any “drunken person”.
The case discussed was the very first in Ireland in which barmen were charged for manslaughter following the death of a customer.
The decision of the court again emphasises the approach of the courts in jurisdictions such as Australia and England which have tended to make the individual responsible for the consequences of voluntary intoxication.
Even though the decision is not binding in our courts it will certainly assume some importance if our courts are faced with deciding a similar case in the future.
Beyond the strict law the case is a reminder of the dangers of excessive consumption of alcohol. It should also serve as a caution to barmen that their responsibility extends beyond mere knowledge of the drinks they serve but they must also know their customers and take an interest in what, and how much they are consuming.• Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel. Send your letters to: Everyday Law, c/o Nation House, Fontabelle, St Michael. Send your email to [email protected]