Being drunk in public should be an offence again - Sir Geoffrey

Being drunk in a public place should be made illegal and fines should be given to those caught, Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer told politicians today.

It was previously an offence and was removed because politicians believed they could introduce a "European sophisticated drinking culture", but that did not happen, Sir Geoffrey told Parliament's health select committee.

Instead binge-drinking was commonplace throughout New Zealand and was not just a youth problem, he said.

"It's not an offence to be drunk in a public place but nonetheless police have to deal with (drunk people), but they have nowhere to take them."

Being drunk in a public place should be an infringement offence that incurs a fine, Sir Geoffrey said.

The law could include drunk and disorderly behaviour or only being drunk and discretion be left to police on whether to charge someone or not.

New Zealand also needed detoxification centres where police could take people to sober up rather than leaving them in police cells or taking them home, Sir Geoffrey said.

Short and long term rehabilitation centres were also necessary for recidivist offenders.

The amount of police resources used policing the "late night culture" in New Zealand was "truly astonishing", he said.

"Unless you saw it you wouldn't believe it."

New Zealand's per capita alcohol consumption has risen 9 percent in the last 15 years and a "broad approach" was needed to tackle the problem, Sir Geoffrey said.

Many New Zealanders were not aware of the link between drinking alcohol and cancer, including breast and oral, liver disease, injury and sexual health, he said.

Education campaigns did not work in this area and other tools must be used including taxation, controlling supply and restrictions on public drinking.

The Law Commission was undertaking a review of alcohol in New Zealand and has released a discussion paper.

Its full report was due in March 2010.