The recent announcement from Justice Minister, Daniel Feetham, accompanied by Family Minister, Jaime Netto, is a very welcome development. Welcome, not just because it tackles a serious and growing social problem but importantly because it is a ministerial initiative, which if allowed to flourish will improve the democratic process in Gibraltar.
Drinking amongst youngsters has been a problem that has been getting worse year on year. It is a grave social problem with grave consequences that greatly contributes to the commission of crimes of violence and disorder. It uses up police resources unnecessarily at great expense and distracts those police resources from being deployed to more important and essential law enforcement duties.
The increase of the legal age of drinking from 16 to 18 is consonant with the laws of many other countries. The permissive aspect that allows supervised drinking of certain alcoholic beverages at the ages of 16 and 18 is enlightened. It empowers parents to decide what is best for their own children but, probably more importantly, it provides a legal mechanism by which 16 and 17 year olds can be shown how to drink responsibly. Importantly this system is based on empowering parents, which avoids the criticism that a "nanny State" is being implemented. Too much interference by the State into parental and, indeed, citizens' rights and obligations is to be avoided at all cost. The State's responsibility is to the community as a whole not to substitute individual parental controls or the duties and obligations of citizens.
Even now, whilst the legal age for drinking is 16, there has been widespread abuse, purposeful or possibly inadvertent, which has resulted in alcoholic drinks being sold to youngsters below the age of 16. 16 is in itself too young an age for the law to permit the drinking of alcohol. The sale of alcohol to underaged persons has gone relatively unchecked for some time. The fault has not been down to lack of effort on the part of the police. It has been more to do with the low penalties that could be imposed. The new law cures this deficiency also. It introduces penalties that are a deterrent in themselves. More importantly, the new penalties will help to further incentivise the police to enforce the law strictly. They will see the deterrent effect of the sentences work to prevent future breaches of the law.
But does this recent announcement signal a deeper political and hierarchical shift within the GSD? We see Daniel Feetham taking another lead on an important and fundamental change to the law accompanied by another minister Jaime Netto. Daniel Feetham seems to be taking more and more initiatives in matters that are essential to good governance at a local level. His initiatives in the field of law reform is the central plank that any Gibraltar Government should be concentrating on. It is the very reason why governments are elected. The international and other more glamourous aspects of government are undoubtedly of enormous importance but those should not be dealt with to the exclusion or detriment of the legislative process that is not led by compulsion from the EU.
Leadership initiative within the GSD shown by the likes of Peter Montegriffo and Keith Azopardi has been stifled in the past. Both left frontline politics within the GSD to the detriment of Gibraltar. This is not an effect that is unique to the GSD. Historically in Gibraltar parties of every hue have lost talent unnecessarily. Let us hope that this does not happen again. Let us hope that Daniel Feetham's enterprise, ambition and dynamism is encouraged and allowed to flourish. Democracy in Gibraltar will be enhanced if it were to be permitted.