The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers)(Covid-19) Act 2020 was signed into law on 12 September 2020.
The legislation grants powers to An Garda Síochána to enter any premises that sells alcohol under an intoxicating liquor licence without a warrant and where the premises is found not to be complying with Covid-19 Regulations to take a number of actions.
It is an offence under the Act for any person to prevent or attempt to prevent a member of An Garda Síochána from exercising the powers conferred upon them under this Act.
Under the Act, An Garda Síochána have a number of powers as follows:
- to issue a direction to the person in charge of the premises to take whatever steps are considered necessary for the premises to be compliant with Covid-19 Regulations;
- to issue written compliance notices to the person in charge of the premises to take steps that are considered necessary for the premises to be compliant with Covid-19 Regulations;
- to issue closure orders in respect of premises that are not compliant with Covid-19 Regulations.
There are three graduated forms of closure order that can be issued:
- the “Immediate Closure Order”. This grants the power to a Garda (not below the rank of Superintendent) to issue an order to a licence holder to immediately close a premises for the rest of the day where it is found to be in breach of the regulations. It is a form of on the spot closure order;
- the “Emergency Closure Order” which allows a Garda (not below the rank of Superintendent) to apply ex parte (i.e. the licence holder may not be aware of the Court application) to the District Court for an emergency order to temporarily close the infringing premises for a period of up to three days. This order is intended for situations where there has been more than one breach of the regulations and the Gardaí are of the opinion that the offending behaviour is likely to continue. Section 5(10) gives discretion to the District Court to discharge such an order where the licensee in question gives an undertaking of compliance to the Court; and
- the “Temporary Closure Order” which allows a Garda (not below the rank of Superintendent) to apply on notice to the licence holder to the District Court for an order to close the infringing premises for a period of between seven days and thirty days. This is the severest form of order and is intended to deal with premises where there are repeated infringements of the Covid-19 Regulations. A premises can be closed for up to seven days for the first breach and up to 30 days for a second or subsequent breach.
Where a premises is subject to a “Temporary Closure Order” the licence holder must affix a prominent notice to the exterior of the premises noting that the premises is subject to a “Temporary Closure Order” and specifying the length of closure.
The Act expires on 09 November 2020 but can be extended by a resolution of the Oireachtas.
Whilst the Act may seem of temporary impact only, licence holders should note that it also provides for new grounds of objection to the renewal of a licence. Specifically:
- the issue of any closure order;
- any, conviction of any relevant offence under the Act; or
- where in the opinion of a Garda Superintendent there has been a failure to comply with a compliance notice, and such failure to comply is continuing or is likely to recur
As such the Act is capable of having an impact on licence holders after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.
It is important therefore that licence holders comply with Covid-19 Regulations in operating their businesses.