With customer numbers up over Christmas it is also a time for vigilance by operators to ensure customers feel safe.  It is undeniable that the number of people who try to bring knives, drugs and alcohol into pubs and clubs is increasing every year.  Knife crime is at its highest level ever  – as a licensee what is your duty to take care of customers?

A failure to take action to prevent criminal activity and disorderly conduct on your premises may, at the very least, result in bad publicity.  A violent incident may prompt a licence review there may also be criminal sanctions for you as licensee.  If you run a nightclub or a restaurant that becomes a late night venue you may wish to consider searching all those who enter your premises later at night or over the Christmas period when drinking hours become more protracted.

Duty to take reasonable care of customers?

In a case brought against the owners of the Metropolitan Bar in Old Park Lane, London a few years ago the Court of Appeal considered the extent of the duty of care owed by a bar to its customers after 2 men were stabbed by another customer.  This provides useful pointers for pub and bar operators.

The Court applied a three prong test:

  1. The relationship was sufficiently proximate – in this case customers were paying to be in the bar so it had a duty of care towards them.  It may be that they would not have had the same duty had they not paying to enter the club.  Guests are entitled to feel that they are safe and that there will not be violence in a night club.  In this case entry was restricted to hotel residents, members and their guests.
  2. Injury was foreseeable – it must be foreseeable to any licensed hotelier that when alcohol is consumed this can lead to violence and there is a risk that one guest might assault another.  The degree of risk will depend on the nature of the establishment, type of customers, history of violent incidents etc.  Where the risk is greater it will be necessary to take more precautions.
  3. The Court considered it fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care in this case.

Appropriate Precautions

The Court considered that the level of precautions which an establishment needs to take will depend on the circumstances for example:

  • Where violence is a frequent occurrence a club may need to have someone specifically on hand to deal with outbreaks
  • If customers often try to bring weapons on to the premises it might be necessary to search all customers on entry
  • It may be necessary to have security staff present in particular areas of the club at busy times

This case has implications beyond nightclubs and would apply to all licensed premises where alcohol is consumed and therefore the risk of violence increases making the risk of injury to others forseeable. You should therefore take steps to protect your customers from violence on a night out.

Practical Advice

Operators should ensure that they:

  • Carry out a regular risk assessment covering the risk of violence to customers and staff and keep a copy of the document produced
  • Implement appropriate measures to minimise the risks identified, e.g. produce a health and safety policy, employ door staff when necessary, search customers on entry (where advertised and agreed to) – see below
  • Train staff in policies adopted and to react appropriately should violence occur
  • Review and monitor assessments and policies regularly.

Failure to consider the risks and act accordingly may mean that in future, depending on the nature of your establishment, you could be held liable for the acts of violence of customers on your premises.

Door staff and customer searches

Where finances permit, a good and well-trusted team of door supervisors is crucial in preventing violence and drug dealing on your premises.  In order for searches to be carried out on entry to the premises this fact should be clearly advertised on entry to the premises.  Searches can only be carried out with an individual’s consent although entry can be denied to those who refuse to consent.  If you are not carrying out mandatory searches of all customers then you must ensure that the decision on who to search is not based on prejudice e.g. sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or age.  Any drugs or weapons seized should be put in a safe until disposed of to Police.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.