By James Atkinson
A New South Wales restaurant licensee who was fined by undercover police officers for serving liquor without food has successfully overturned the ruling in court.
In October 2010, two undercover police officers walked into the restaurant in Cronulla, Sydney, which had a standard restaurant licence. They sat at a table and ordered a round of drinks and the waitress left a food menu with them.
After half an hour they ordered a second round of drinks. They stayed another 50 minutes and finished their drinks before calling for the bill and leaving without ordering food.
Police then fined the licensee $1,100 for serving liquor without food.
After failing in a bid to overturn the ruling in Sutherland Local Court, the licensee appealed successfully to the District Court.
Judge Jonathan Williams found that the waitress would have reasonably expected the police officers to order food, as the premises were operating as a genuine restaurant, where meals were continuously being served. He said the officers had a menu placed before them and they did not do anything to suggest that they did not want food.
The lawyer acting for the licensee, Tony Hatzis of Hatzis Cusack Lawyers, said the decision was a victory for common sense.
"The judge accepted that pre-dinner and after dinner drinks are common in restaurants," he said.
"A restaurant licensee should not be convicted of an offence just because a patron decides to change his or her mind and leave the restaurant during pre-dinner drinks."
"It would be different, of course, if the restaurant staff had no intention of providing food to patrons," Hatzis added.