Alcohol sale offences (Revised 2017)

Licensing Act 2003, s.141 (sale of alcohol to drunk person); s.146 (sale of alcohol to children); s.147 (allowing sale of alcohol to children)
Effective from: 24 April 2017

Triable only summarily

Maximum: Level 3 fine (s.141);

A fine must not exceed the statutory limit. Where this is expressed in terms of a ‘level’, the maxima are:

Level 1 £200
Level 2 £500
Level 3 £1,000
Level 4 £2,500
Level 5 Unlimited (for offences committed after 13 March 2015)*

*For offences committed before 13 March 2015 the level 5 maximum is £5,000

Unlimited fine (ss.146 and 147)
Offence range: Conditional Discharge – Band C fine

Note: This guideline may also be relevant when sentencing offences under s147A of the Licensing Act 2003, persistently selling alcohol to children, which is committed if, on three or more different occasions within a period of three consecutive months, alcohol is unlawfully sold on the same premises to a person under 18. The offence is summary only and the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine. The court should refer to the sentencing approach in this guideline, adjusting the starting points and ranges bearing in mind the increased seriousness of this offence.

User guide for this offence


Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.

Applicability

In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after the effective date of this guideline, regardless of the date of the offence.*

Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides that when sentencing offences committed after 6 April 2010:

“Every court –

  1. must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case, and
  2. must, in exercising any other function relating to the sentencing of offenders, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the exercise of the function,

unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.”

This guideline applies only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are in the Sentencing Council definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People.

*The maximum sentence that applies to an offence is the maximum that applied at the date of the offence.

Step 1 – Determining the offence category

The Court should determine the offence category using the table below.

Category 1 Higher culpability and greater harm
Category 2 Higher culpability and lesser harm or lower culpability and greater harm 
Category 3 Lower culpability and lesser harm

The court should determine the offender’s culpability and the harm caused with reference only to the factors below. Where an offence does not fall squarely into a category, individual factors may require a degree of weighting before making an overall assessment and determining the appropriate offence category.

CULPABILITY demonstrated by one or more of the following

Factors indicating higher culpability

  • No attempt made to establish age
  • Sale for consumption by group of intoxicated persons
  • Sale intended for consumption by a child or young person
  • Offender in management position (or equivalent)
  • Evidence of failure to police the sale of alcohol

Factors indicating lower culpability

  • Offender deceived by false identification
  • Evidence of substantial effort to police the sale of alcohol
  • Offender acting under direction

HARM demonstrated by one or more of the following

Factors indicating greater harm

  • Supply to younger child/children
  • Supply causes or contributes to antisocial behaviour
  • Large quantity of alcohol supplied

Factors indicating lesser harm

  • All other cases

Step 2 – Starting point and category range

Having determined the category at step one, the court should use the starting point to reach a sentence within the appropriate category range in the table below. The starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions.

Offence category Starting Point Category Range
Category 1 Band C fine      Band B fine – Band C fine
Category 2 Band B fine Band A fine – Band C fine
Category 3 Band A fine Conditional discharge – Band B fine

Note: refer to fines for offence committed for ‘commercial’ purposes.

Fines
  Starting point Range
Fine Band A  50% of relevant weekly income  25 – 75% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band B  100% of relevant weekly income  75 – 125% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band C  150% of relevant weekly income 125 – 175% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band D  250% of relevant weekly income 200 – 300% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band E 400% of relevant weekly income 300 – 500% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band F  600% of relevant weekly income  500 – 700% of relevant weekly income
  • The court should determine the appropriate level of fine in accordance with this guideline and section 164 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires that the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence and that the court must take into account the financial circumstances of the offender.
  • Where possible, if a financial penalty is imposed, it should remove any economic benefit the offender has derived through the commission of the offence including:
    • avoided costs;
    • operating savings;
    • any gain made as a direct result of the offence.
  • The fine should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and the removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence; it should not be cheaper to offend than to comply with the law.
  • In considering economic benefit, the court should avoid double recovery.
  • Where the means of the offender are limited, priority should be given to compensation (where applicable) over payment of any other financial penalty.
  • Where it is not possible to calculate or estimate the economic benefit, the court may wish to draw on information from the enforcing authorities about the general costs of operating within the law.
  • When sentencing organisations the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law.  The court should ensure that the effect of the fine (particularly if it will result in closure of the business) is proportionate to the gravity of the offence.
  • Obtaining financial information: It is for the offender to disclose to the court such data relevant to their financial position as will enable it to assess what they can reasonably afford to pay. If necessary, the court may compel the disclosure of an individual offender’s financial circumstances pursuant to section 162 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In the absence of such disclosure, or where the court is not satisfied that it has been given sufficient reliable information, the court will be entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to the offender’s means from evidence it has heard and from all the circumstances of the case. In setting a fine, the court may conclude that the offender is able to pay any fine imposed unless the offender has supplied financial information to the contrary.

The court should then consider adjustment for any aggravating or mitigating factors. The following is a non-exhaustive list of additional factual elements providing the context of the offence and factors relating to the offender. Identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the sentence arrived at so far.

Factors increasing seriousness

Statutory aggravating factors:

  • Previous convictions,

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    Guidance on the use of previous convictions

    The following guidance should be considered when seeking to determine the degree to which previous convictions should aggravate sentence:

    Section 143 of the Criminal Justice Act states that:

    In considering the seriousness of an offence (“the current offence”) committed by an offender who has one or more previous convictions, the court must treat each previous conviction as an aggravating factor if (in the case of that conviction) the court considers that it can reasonably be so treated having regard, in particular, to—

    (a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence, and

    (b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction.

    1. Previous convictions are considered at step two in the Council’s offence-specific guidelines.
    2. The primary significance of previous convictions (including convictions in other jurisdictions) is the extent to which they indicate trends in offending behaviour and possibly the offender’s response to earlier sentences.
    3. Previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
    4. Previous convictions of a type different from the current offence may be relevant where they are an indication of persistent offending or escalation and/or a failure to comply with previous court orders.
    5. Numerous and frequent previous convictions might indicate an underlying problem (for example, an addiction) that could be addressed more effectively in the community and will not necessarily indicate that a custodial sentence is necessary.
    6. If the offender received a non-custodial disposal for the previous offence, a court should not necessarily move to a custodial sentence for the fresh offence.
    7. In cases involving significant persistent offending, the community and custody thresholds may be crossed even though the current offence normally warrants a lesser sentence. If a custodial sentence is imposed it should be proportionate and kept to the necessary minimum.
    8. The aggravating effect of relevant previous convictions reduces with the passage of time; older convictions are less relevant to the offender’s culpability for the current offence and less likely to be predictive of future offending.
    9. Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
    10. The court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. Where there has been a significant gap between previous and current convictions or a reduction in the frequency of offending this may indicate that the offender has made attempts to desist from offending in which case the aggravating effect of the previous offending will diminish.
    11. Where the current offence is significantly less serious than the previous conviction (suggesting a decline in the gravity of offending), the previous conviction may carry less weight.
    12. When considering the totality of previous offending a court should take a rounded view of the previous crimes and not simply aggregate the individual offences.
    13. Where information is available on the context of previous offending this may assist the court in assessing the relevance of that prior offending to the current offence
    having regard to a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction
  • Offence committed whilst on bail

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    S143 (3) Criminal Justice Act 2003 states:

    In considering the seriousness of any offence committed while the offender was on bail, the court must treat the fact that it was committed in those circumstances as an aggravating factor.

  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating hostility based on any of the following characteristics or presumed characteristics of the victim: religion, race, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    See below for the statutory provisions. 

    • Note the requirement for the court to state that the offence has been aggravated by the relevant hostility.
    • Where the element of hostility is core to the offending, the aggravation will be higher than where it plays a lesser role.

    Increase in sentences for racial or religious aggravation

    s145(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states:

    If the offence was racially or religiously aggravated, the court—

    (a) must treat that fact as an aggravating factor, and

    (b) must state in open court that the offence was so aggravated.

    An offence is racially or religiously aggravated for these purposes if—

    • at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence, hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
    • the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.

    “membership”, in relation to a racial or religious group, includes association with members of that group;

    “presumed” means presumed by the offender.

    It is immaterial whether or not the offender's hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned above.

    “racial group” means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.

    “religious group” means a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

    Increase in sentences for aggravation related to disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity

    s146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states:

    (1) This section applies where the court is considering the seriousness of an offence committed in any of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2).

    (2) Those circumstances are—

    (a) that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on—

    (i) the sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim,

    (ii) a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim, or

    (iii) the victim being (or being presumed to be) transgender, or

    (b) that the offence is motivated (wholly or partly)—

    (i) by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation,

    (ii) by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability or

    (iii) by hostility towards persons who are transgender.

    (3) The court—

    (a) must treat the fact that the offence was committed in any of those circumstances as an aggravating factor, and

    (b) must state in open court that the offence was committed in such circumstances.

    (4) It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) whether or not the offender's hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.

    (5) In this section “disability” means any physical or mental impairment.

    (6) In this section references to being transgender include references to being transsexual, or undergoing, proposing to undergo or having undergone a process or part of a process of gender reassignment.

Other aggravating factors:

  • Failure to comply with current court orders

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    • Commission of an offence while subject to a relevant court order makes the offence more serious.
    • The extent to which the offender has complied with the conditions of an order (including the time that has elapsed since its commencement) will be a relevant consideration.
    • Where the offender is dealt with separately for a breach of an order regard should be had to totality
    • Care should be taken to avoid double counting matters taken into account when considering previous convictions.

    When sentencing young adult offenders (typically aged 18-25), consideration should also be given to the guidance on the mitigating factor relating to age and/or lack of maturity when considering the significance of this factor.

  • Offence committed on licence or post sentence supervision

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    • An offender who is subject to licence or post sentence supervision is under a particular obligation to desist from further offending.
    • The extent to which the offender has complied with the conditions of a licence or order (including the time that has elapsed since its commencement) will be a relevant consideration.
    • Where the offender is dealt with separately for a breach of a licence or order regard should be had to totality.
    • Care should be taken to avoid double counting matters taken into account when considering previous convictions.

    When sentencing young adult offenders (typically aged 18-25), consideration should also be given to the guidance on the mitigating factor relating to age and/or lack of maturity when considering the significance of this factor.

Factors reducing seriousness or reflecting personal mitigation

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    • First time offenders usually represent a lower risk of reoffending. Reoffending rates for first offenders are significantly lower than rates for repeat offenders. In addition, first offenders are normally regarded as less blameworthy than offenders who have committed the same crime several times already. For these reasons first offenders receive a mitigated sentence.
    • Where there are previous offences but these are old and /or are for offending of a different nature, the sentence will normally be reduced to reflect that the new offence is not part of a pattern of offending and there is therefore a lower likelihood of reoffending.
    • When assessing whether a previous conviction is ‘recent’ the court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. 
    • Previous convictions are likely to be ‘relevant’ when they share characteristics with the current offence (examples of such characteristics include, but are not limited to: dishonesty, violence, abuse of position or trust, use or possession of weapons, disobedience of court orders).  In general the more serious the previous offending the longer it will retain relevance.
  • Offence committed as the result of substantial intimidation

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    • Where this applies it will reduce the culpability of the offender.
    • This factor may be of particular relevance where the offender has been the victim of domestic abuse, trafficking or modern slavery, but may also apply in other contexts.
    • Courts should be alert to factors that suggest that an offender may have been the subject of coercion, intimidation or exploitation which the offender may find difficult to articulate, and where appropriate ask for this to be addressed in a PSR.
    • This factor may indicate that the offender is vulnerable and would find it more difficult to cope with custody or to complete a community order.

Step 3 – Consider any factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution

The court should take into account sections 73 and 74 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (assistance by defendants: reduction or review of sentence) and any other rule of law by virtue of which an offender may receive a discounted sentence in consequence of assistance given (or offered) to the prosecutor or investigator.

Step 4 – Reduction for guilty pleas

The court should take account of any potential reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with section 144 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the guideline for Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea (where first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017, or first hearing before 1 June 2017).

Step 5 – Totality principle

If sentencing an offender for more than one offence, or where the offender is already serving a sentence, consider whether the total sentence is just and proportionate to the overall offending behaviour in accordance with the Totality guideline.

Step 6 – Compensation and ancillary orders

In all cases, the court should consider whether to make compensation and/or other ancillary orders including  deprivation and/or forfeiture or suspension of personal liquor licence.

Step 7 – Reasons

Section 174 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty to give reasons for, and explain the effect of, the sentence.