Busy Supermarket Aisle With Customers

The harrowing events of 22 May 2017 at the Manchester Arena and the sombre days that followed will forever be in the memory of everyone who, like myself, lived or worked in the city at the time. The senseless actions of one man ended the lives of 22 people and forever altered it for those who sustained injuries or lost loved ones.

In the wake of the attack, the government made a commitment to legislate. The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill – known as Martyn’s Law after victim Martyn Hett – aims to do just that.

The product of tireless campaigning from Martyn’s mother Figen Murray, the bill was described by the Home Affairs Select Committee as the most far-reaching counter-terror legislation in the world. It will have ramifications for a huge range of businesses and public premises, not just entertainment venues like the Manchester Arena.

A recent consultation on the bill closed in March – acting as a timely reminder that publicly accessible premises like supermarkets fall very much within the purview of this legislation.

Martyn’s Law for grocers

The bill has two distinct sets of requirements for qualifying premises. The proposed regulations for standard-tier venues, which the government is currently consulting on, will cover businesses, organisations and publicly available premises that have capacity for 100 to 799 individuals. There is also an enhanced tier for venues that hold over 800 individuals.

Nearly all traditional format multiples – perhaps leaving aside some ‘local’ and convenience outlets – will fall under the standard tier at least. Supermarkets will need to clarify whether megastores creep over the threshold into enhanced. The relevant consideration is the maximum capacity of the premises.

We await the government’s response to the standard-tier consultation and many of the bill’s finer points are still to be decided. However, we can be fairly confident that all sites qualifying will need to produce an incident response plan including evacuation and invacuation procedures. There will doubtless be a raft of other requirements that supermarkets must adhere to.

Financial and reputational consequences

A focus of the recent consultation was to ensure the requirements were not overly burdensome for smaller venues. Supermarkets, given their relative size and sophistication, are unlikely to qualify for many of the resultant concessions.

Not only should supermarkets anticipate needing to meet most of or all the requirements, they can also expect to be liable for some of the more significant penalties for non-compliance. The standard tier allows for fines of up to £10,000, while enhanced-tier venues could be charged up to £18m, or 5% of qualifying global revenue.

There is also the prospect of reputational risk for arguably the UK’s most talked-about consumer sector. At a time when shoplifting has become a major political and media issue, supermarkets do not want to give their customers another reason to question store safety.

We do not know what final form Martyn’s Law will take or exactly when it will be implemented. But, from the information already available, it is clear the bill represents a seismic shift in how liability will be apportioned in the event of a future terror attack.

Security services, government agencies and the wider public sector often bear the brunt of criticism and responsibility for compensation following terrorist incidents. This legislation will indirectly place far more liability onto businesses, including supermarkets.