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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 12:29 GMT
What is being drunk and incapable?
The Magazine answers...

A drunk woman in Bristol town centre
Arrest can mean a night in the cells
As the Christmas Party season gets into full swing, arrests for drunken behaviour are set to rise as well. But what constitutes being drunk and incapable?

Tonight is the biggest office party night of this year's festive season, according to Boots. Sales of aspirin have soared as people prepare for the inevitable hangover the next day.

Police are also bracing themselves for hordes of drunken revellers. The first high-profile casualty of the season is former health minister Stephen Twigg, who was arrested on Monday and fined 50 for being drunk and incapable.

The 38-year-old ex-MP had reportedly drunk too much red wine at a Christmas lunch and was on his way home when he was stopped by a policeman in central London.

Sober up

But with so many people taking advantage of Christmas hospitality, what constitutes being drunk and incapable and couldn't most of the nation be arrested for it?

The official definition of being drunk and incapable is when you are so drunk you are unable to stand or walk or unaware of what you are doing or unable to understand what is said to you.

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A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

If a person is arrested for the offence, and they have no previous record and are not disorderly, they will be taken to a police station and kept there until they are sober. This could mean a night in the cells, being woken every half hour to make sure they are ok.

The person will also be issued with a 50 fixed penalty notice. From January to August this year 22,667 notices were issued. If they are injured they will be taken to hospital instead.

Enforcing the law is down to the discretion of individual officers, says the Metropolitan Police.

"As with all laws, they are there for a police officer to use as they see appropriate," says a spokesman.


For drinkers there is safety in numbers, as any attempt to round up rowdy revellers in Britain's town and cities - even on a quiet weeknight - would soon over-stretch police and fill their cells to bursting point.

"The police don't usually do anything unless a person was being a pest or if they were a risk to themselves," says Andrew McNeil of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS).

Police use discretion, and are arresting fewer drinkers

The offence of being drunk and incapable is not a new one. It was first recognised in statute during the 18th and 19th centuries, according to the University of Dundee.

But statistics for drunkenness are on the decline, says the IAS - although not because we are drinking less, rather fewer people are being arrested.

"There has been a steady lack of enforcement of what are technically breaches of the laws," says Mr McNeil. "If you are being quietly drunk in a shop doorway the police will probably turn a blind eye. They are waiting for the serious offences."

If someone does come to police attention for fighting or rowdy behaviour they are usually arrested for being drunk and disorderly. They can be fined up to 1,000 or given a penalty notice for 80.

Under section 12 of the Licensing Act 1902 any person who has been convicted of offences related to drunkenness three times within the preceding 12 months can be banned by the courts from buying alcohol from any licensed premise for three years.

Your comments:

Just another way for the council to add to its income, and for rogues policemen to act unscrupulously.

Drunk and incapable means being unable to defend yourself, being unable to control your actions, or speech. In a public place this means at best being a total pain in the neck. At worst contributing to fear and anxiety in the vulnerable, lowering the general quality of life for the many, upsetting children, and putting a burden on the Police, the NHS, councils and other public sector bodies. This increases our tax burden, makes many areas of town no go areas and decreases freedom for many people. There is a law, it's sensible - apply it, Zero tolerence please.
Julian Smith, Rochdale Uk

Not only do they have to be roused each 15/30 mins but we have to take all the swearing, spitting and fighting aswell. Drink related arrests are "RECORDABLE" so each person who receives a 50/80 fixed penatly ticket also has to be fingerprinted, photograph and a sample of DNA taken. This can take a lot of time when we are trying to deal with a large number of detainee's in custody
Jerry, Sussex

My husband, who served 22 years in the Royal Navy, used to tell me that as long as a sailor returning from a run ashore could walk up the gangplank without tripping over, salute the officer of the watch and bid him goodnight without swaying or falling over and walk in an orderly fashion back to his mess, he could have drunk the town dry, but if he failed on any of those counts, he could find himself before the Captain's Table the following morning!
Chez, Bracknell

It seems that the times of Hogarth are returning. "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence and the straw for free."
Clive, Monterrey, Mexico

How about making landlords more responsible for the amount of alcohol they serve to people? If they serve alcohol to someone who is drunk, they should get a hefty fine too.
susan passmore, Bristol

My experience is one where I received a caution and no fine. Good news you might say? To the contrary. A caution appears as an 'offence' on my otherwise impeccable police record and although prosecution did not happen the 'charge' remained on my record (available through the data protection act for 10 from your local police stations)for 5 whole years. The reason I am aware of this is that such a indictment is likely to prevent emigration to Canada for example. Ironically our government not only allows drunks into our country under a very relaxed immigration policy but also people with other more serious criminal records. Hats off to Tony Blurr.
Mike, Wales UK

I think that people who organise work's nights out are a far more dangerous breed and it is they that should be locked up. There is nothing worse than being forced to spend the night with a bunch of people you spend most of the year trying to avoid.
Andy, Newcastle, UK

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