THE bank holiday is upon us, and many people will be looking forward to kicking back with a cocktail or two.
But did you know it's illegal to be drunk while in charge of a young child in a public place – and how much is too much? Here's the lowdown…
Can you get arrested for drinking alcohol in public while in the care of a child?
Under the Licensing Act 1902, it is illegal to be drunk in charge of a child in a public place.
The law forbids being drunk on a highway, public place or any licensed premises while in charge of a child under the age of seven.
The crime can be punished by a fine or up to a month in prison.
Last year Russian billionaire heiress Nicole Ovchinnikova was cleared after being accused of going on a 17-hour booze binge while looking after a child.
Solicitor advocate Joy Merriam said there was no objective test to see how drunk a parent is, but the key issue is around safeguarding.
She said: "The threshold would be whether the child was compromised. If you're having lunch with a couple of glasses of wine, you probably wouldn't be considered drunk in charge of a child.
"If you're obviously impaired, if it's a young child who needs you to be alert and capable of safeguarding them, that would be the real test."
She said parents of young children needed to be fully alert to protect them from physical harm such as running into a road or climbing on things.
Is it OK to drink in front of children?
Drinkaware has released the following advice about drinking in front of children.
- Children learn about acceptable behaviour by observing and copying their parents, so when it comes to drinking, it really is a case of leading by example.
- Drink within the low risk alcohol unit guidelines of not regularly drinking more than 14 units per week for both men and women, and spreading them evenly over three days or more. This shows your child that adults can enjoy alcohol in moderation.
- Explain that alcohol is only for adults because their bodies have finished growing, and even adults have rules about how much they can drink.
- Children notice if their parents have different drinking patterns at special occasions or on holiday. To avoid confusing them, keep up a conversation that explains that usually you stick to the lower risk unit guidelines.
- If you do drink too much occasionally and have to deal with a hangover, don’t try and hide the symptoms, instead talk openly to your child about how you’re feeling.
Joy said often parents might be arrested on suspicion of the offence, but their case would be passed to social services, and prosecutions were rare.
She said: "It obviously is quite an old law. It tends to be used more these days in child protection and child care law.
"The fact you've been drunk while looking after your child in a public place would be used as evidence to whether you're a fit parent.
"I don't think the fact you've got a whiff of alcohol on your breath [would be grounds for arrest], but if your speech is slurred and you're staggering."
Is it legal to get drunk at home when you're looking after children?
The fact the law specifies it must be in public doesn't mean it's ok to do it at home.
If a parent is so drunk they can't look after their kids properly, they could be charged with neglect.
A spokesperson for the NSPCC said: "Nobody is saying 'don't enjoy yourselves', but just use common sense when looking after children.
"Drink in moderation and always make sure you are in control."
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