Changing the rules*

Can a stag night have legal repercussions? If my parents visit the US, might they be sent to Guantan

I have rashly agreed to arrange the stag night for a university friend. He’s quite a shy bloke,

but everyone is ridiculing me for saying yes – and they are threatening “a night to remember”. I foresee handcuffs, a lamp-post and gutters running with shaving cream. Are there any legal dangers I can frighten them with?

Paul Lewis, London

The scenario you envisage is a legal minefield. Your friends, in their exuberance, might well commit both kidnapping and assault. By failing to tip off the authorities, you yourself could face a life sentence if put on trial for conspiracy. Each of you could also face a civil action and end up several thousand pounds out of pocket.

Unfortunately for your purposes, such an outcome is improbable. Although most stag parties have the potential to end disastrously, few are criminal enterprises from the outset and, in most cases, the prospective groom's consent to tomfoolery precludes all liability. Your friends may, as a consequence, take your warnings with a pinch of salt.

You must therefore reiterate to them as vividly as you can. Inform your friends that if they were to misinterpret cries of pain as yelps of joy, drunkenness would be no defence. Let them know that there are some types of consensual horseplay that the law simply refuses to countenance under any circumstances. The House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights made clear a few years ago, for example, that it is always illegal to pour molten wax into another man's urethra. Having one's scrotum hammered to a board is similarly unlawful, no matter how enjoyable the experience may be (see Laskey v UK, 1997).

Such contingencies may seem remote at present. Yet rites of passage can unleash unexpected impulses.

It is wise to anticipate the worst.

I used to work in New York and want to take my parents there. We’re Muslim, though, and they’ve got it into their heads that the US government could send them to Guantanamo. How can I reassure them?

AZ, High Wycombe

It is true that US law no longer protects tourists against indefinite military detention without trial, but prolonged incarceration is by no means certain. The key concern of the American authorities is to detect unlawful enemy combatants - and your parents are at risk only if their profile seems to indicate a propensity towards terrorism.

This could occur if, for example, their names resemble any of the entries on the US Transport Security Administration's 40,000-strong no-fly list. They would then become eligible for enhanced security measures, including an F-16 flight escort and sustained interrogation on arrival.

The list has its shortcomings - it apparently includes 14 of the 9/11 hijackers, for example, and for unknown reasons it targets everyone called Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson. But the laws of probability, if nothing else, are on your parents' side.

The US government also obtains information about tourists from the carriers that fly them. Every time someone makes a reservation, the airline concerned creates a passenger name record (PNR) - which can include more than 30 types of personal data, ranging from meal requests to accommodation preferences - and the Department of Homeland Security is entitled to see all the information.

Since it refuses to reveal how PNRs are used, it is hard to say how a profile can be optimised, however. It might be prudent to order a vegan meal rather than a halal one. Occupying a window seat may seem less threatening than sitting by the aisle. The reverse might be true, of course. Whichever it is, bon voyage - and let us hope you do not guess wrong!

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a History from Socrates to O J Simpson". This will be his last column as he is working on a new book on sharia law*"The rules of the game have changed" - Tony Blair, August 2005

Sadakat Kadri is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a writer. His most recent book is The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, and he is a past winner of the Spectator/Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The Brown revolution begins

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.