Legal Question Mark Over Sydney Lockout Laws

Sydney’s lockout laws are in a legal quandary after a Supreme Court judge questioned if the government department that introduced the laws had the authority to do so.  

It has left venue operators and authorities divided over its implications. The lockouts were introduced in 2014 to combat alcohol-fueled violence in entertainment precincts, with a 1:30 a.m. lockout (no new customers) and 3 a.m. cease-service.

Venue owners complain of a noticeable drop in traffic as a result. The Kings Cross Liquor Accord, made up of venue operators in the city’s most famous precinct, puts the figure at 40 percent. While the New South Wales (NSW) government awaits a mandatory review of the laws by former High Court judge Ian Callinan, the Aug. 25 landmark decision by the Supreme Court created uncertainty.

Justice Natalie Adams declared that the secretary of the Justice Department lacked the authority to subject a city venue to the laws, the Daily Telegraph reported. Hence Sydney’s central business district’s 15 music venues and strip clubs were now exempt. The ruling followed an appeal by the Smoking Panda Bar. It was previously exempt from the laws as it is within the Coronation Hotel, which is in a designated “tourism accommodation establishment” area. Tourism and accommodation areas are exempt from the lockout laws.

However, an investigation by Liquor and Gaming NSW found that some of the Smoking Panda’s patrons were not hotel guests, and revoked the exemption. Judge Adams said that the definition of “tourism accommodation establishment” had not been properly conveyed to the bar’s operators. “Nothing in the correspondence indicates that there was any condition stipulated by either police or the OLGR that the bar could only permissibly service residents of the hotel’s accommodation facilities,” she said.

The government immediately appealed the decision. The bar has now returned to trading until 5 a.m. But venue operators are not so sure where they stand. A spokesperson for Liquor and Gaming NSW said that the ruling was “based on a technical legal argument” over the power of the secretary of the Dept. of Justice. “The lockout laws continue to apply to the vast majority of pubs, nightclubs and other high-risk venues in the CBD and Kings Cross,” adding that officials would continue to patrol venues to ensure the laws were obeyed.

Through this year, up to 10,000 music fans have attended rallies calling for the lifting of the laws. A new report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, an anti-alcohol lobby group, questions the extent of the loss of trade and insists that assaults are significantly down.