Laws to be updated on pub opening hours and nightclub permits

Minister says Justice Plan 2021 also includes proposals to reduce cost of taking legal action

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee says the reforms are aimed at helping pubs and nightclubs  ‘get back on their feet’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee says the reforms are aimed at helping pubs and nightclubs ‘get back on their feet’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

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The possibility of longer opening hours in pubs and nightclubs and an examination of how to remove any barriers to entering the legal profession are among plans to be outlined on Monday.

Efforts to reduce the high costs of taking legal actions and a scheme for the regularisation of the status of thousands of undocumented migrants are also among proposals contained in the Justice Plan 2021.

It contains more than 200 actions to be implemented in the next 12 months.

Laws on opening hours for pubs and nightclubs will be modernised under the plans. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the reforms were aimed at helping such businesses – which have been among the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – to “get back on their feet”.

Staggered and extended closing times are under consideration, as is the introduction of new categories of licences.

Measures under consideration include a reform of trading laws for the sale of alcohol in pubs and off-licences.

Sunday sales in pubs are currently limited to 12:30pm to 11:00pm and off-licences can sell alcohol until only 10pm.

Under the proposals, the Sunday trading hours for both types of business could be brought in line with the longer hours allowed during the rest of the week.

Nightclub permits

The plans also include the possibility that an annual nightclub permit would be created to allow for longer opening hours.

At present, nightclubs and late bars must get a Special Exemption Order from the District Court on the pretence that a “special occasion” is taking place in the venue.

This adds to costs for the business, and the nightclub sector has argued that longer opening hours are essential for financial viability and to cater for lifestyle changes and tourists.

Separately, amenity licences could be created for premises where the sale of alcohol is not the main business. Examples include sports arenas, racecourses and theatres.

“Our pub, hospitality and cultural sectors are an intrinsic part of our social fabric but have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with many not opening their doors for a year,” Ms McEntee said. “I want to help and support these businesses as they get back on their feet.”

Legal profession

There are also plans to bring more equity and diversity in access to the legal professions, and their education and training structures.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) is to examine remuneration of trainee barristers and solicitors, the costs associated with joining the professions, and any barriers faced by young people hoping to work in the field.

The Justice Plan 2021 also commits to a review of the civil legal aid scheme to develop proposals to complement other planned reforms in areas such as family and civil justice.

The review is likely to look at need and demand, and the range of matters covered by civil legal aid including whether it should cover mediation services in family and civil matters, and how best it should address the needs of asylum seekers or victims of crime.

It is set to examine if the current net means threshold of €18,000 is appropriate in all cases.

Separately, a new Sexual Offences Bill that adds harassment orders to existing legislation and brings consistency in relation to anonymity around a range of sexual offences is to be published by the end of the year.