The Criminal Justice Research Unit organised on 12 November a Staff Research Seminar giving colleagues the opportunity to talk about their latest scholarly writings.
Matt Hall launched the seminar by presenting a fascinating and highly topical research piece on the legal framework relating to alcohol consumption in airports. This topic is not far off from his own PhD that examines the (ab)use of alcohol at football events and the law that governs it. As Matt pointed out, drunkenness at airports is not a new phenomenon, though it is not causing as much trouble as the media would like to portray it. What seems however new is the fact that individuals, particularly those about to embark on hen/stag/18-30’s etc., arrive at airports in a state of drunkenness which is indicative of the ‘pre-loading’ phenomena that is popular amongst many drinkers. Moreover, over indulgence in unregulated access to free alcohol in some departure lounges is also a concern. The abuse of alcohol at airports is a source of unease for the safety of the aircraft and of the passengers. It leads to disruptions to passengers, (including the planes having to be diverted) for which the airlines incur costs.
So, how is alcohol consumption regulated within society and at airports? As Matt explained, the most important piece of legislation relating to alcohol is the Licensing Act 2003. Its objectives are to prevent crime and disorder as well as public nuisance, ensure public safety and protect children. Anyone selling alcohol must comply with the Act’s principles. The system works on the basis of a licence which must be renewed and thus can also be lost. When applying for an application renewal, representations can be put forward to the relevant Licensing Authority from members of the public or the authorities, highlighting any concerns that the aforementioned principles are not being adhered to. The Act also lists a number of offences such as the sale of alcohol to drunk persons on the relevant premises, the failure to leave the relevant premises when requested to do so, obtaining alcohol for a drunk person on the relevant premises and the sale of alcohol to an individual under the age of 18, etc. The key problem is the enforcement of these offences, as for example, drunk people are regularly still being served alcohol. Remarkably, the Licensing Act 2003 does not apply to airside bars within airports as they are exempt under Section 173 which lists several designated airports. Two justifications are adduced for this exemption: a licensing officer would need to obtain airside security clearance, as well as any ‘sting’ personnel who ‘test’ licensed premises by sending in under 18’s to ‘test purchase’ and secondly, the exemption is in line with practice at airports in other countries. There is thus no surprise that in 2017 the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 recommended the repeal of Section 173.
Another important piece of legislation is the Civil Aviation Act 1982 which lists as offences entering the aircraft drunk, endangering an aircraft, endangering the safety of a person, etc. Yet, it turns out that the enforcement is poor here too as drunk individuals are very rarely stopped when boarding an aircraft. There are however on average 40 prosecutions per year which result in anything from a fine of £2000 up to 13 months custody.
Matt highlighted the fact that one problem resides in the definition of drunkenness, thus raising the issue of legal certainty. At which point is an individual deemed drunk? To explain this Matt referred to the situation of drunkenness in public places and at football events. In the former case, offenders are often ‘dispersed’ and told to go home; in the latter, they are prevented from accessing the football stadium as arresting drunk individuals is not a priority for law enforcement officers. Discretion is the key word here. A similar situation is happening at airports as fighting drunkenness is not a priority for airport officials and so enforcement of the law is low.
How can the issue be tackled? Matt went through a number of possible solutions. First, Section 173 could be repealed thus allowing airside bars to be licensed and thereby adhering to the Licensing Act’s principles. There could also be a blanket ban on alcohol consumption at airports and on board of aircraft, however, this would be unlikely given the financial interests of various stakeholders and also, issues of jurisdiction such as when an aircraft leaves UK airspace. Alternatively, individuals who are drunk could be barred from entering an aircraft, which would require a stricter approach in applying the law. In his opinion, the thrust of the problem is that there is no clear definition of the concept of ‘drunk’.
The second presentation held by Dr Noëlle Quénivet focused on the defence of duress and whether it was a justification or an excuse under international criminal law. Her presentation is based on a chapter of a book she is co-writing with Dr Windell Nortje (University of Western Cape, South Africa) on child soldiers and the defence of duress (to be published by Palgrave). Noëlle started by highlighting that, as strange as it may sound, defences are an essential component of international criminal law: individuals who have committed war crimes, acts of genocide or crimes against humanity are allowed to raise defences. The possibility to use defences should be welcomed as a sign that international criminal law is not about victor’s justice and human rights standards, and particularly the right to a fair trial, are complied with. After all, the use of defences does not mean that the act finds approval; it however does not merit condemnation and punishment.
Duress is one of the defences available to alleged perpetrators prosecuted before the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is usually understood as the compulsion of perpetrator to commit a crime because he/she fears for his/her life and limb, the threat stemming from another person (see Article 31(1)(d) of the ICC Statute). As a result, the perpetrator is placed in a position where his/her freedom of will and decision-making abilities are restricted to such level that he/she is not able to make a moral choice.
Noëlle explained that to understand how the defence of duress is applied one needs to examine the Anglo-American common law tradition in as much as the latter has been key in influencing case-law in international criminal law, namely via the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Under national law criminal law defences are often subdivided into justifications and excuses to distinguish between wrongfulness and blameworthiness. A justified action is not criminal because the conduct, although unlawful, is permissible or tolerated as its benefits outweigh the harm or evil of the offence. Here the focus is on the act. An excuse involves an action that is produced by the impairment of a person’s autonomy. Here the focus is on the actor.
Duress is a highly controversial defence in international criminal law. In common law countries it is a justification whilst it is an excuse in Romano-Germanic (civil law) systems. Moreover, duress is not admitted as a full defence in common law countries which means that it can never be invoked in the case of killing. To illustrate the issues relating to the application of duress Noëlle recounted the facts of the Erdemovic case and how the ICTY had come to the conclusion that ‘[d]uress does not afford a complete defense to a soldier charged with a crime against humanity and/or war crime involving the killing of innocent human beings.’ (para 19)
She then suggested that the ICC Statute might have overruled this jurisprudence since duress is accepted as a ground excluding responsibility that applies to all crimes and does not stipulate that it cannot be pleaded when taking a person’s life. Whether it is an excuse or a justification remains to be seen as the criteria for duress have been amalgamated with that of necessity (usually viewed as a justification) in a single provision and the fact that the provision requires the actor to carry out a lesser evil test seems to indicate that the defence is considered a justification.
Noëlle then explained that she would prefer the defence of duress to be an excuse. First, it ensures that the wrongful acts are viewed as such, the message being that such acts cannot be tolerated. Second, it allows to understand the act in its wider context, the focus being on the actor and his/her lack of autonomy in the given circumstances. Third, it can be used as a full defence, including killing though at this stage she indicated that she supported the application of the principle of proportionality, rather than a balance of harms test, as a limit to using duress as the defence.