Retailers warned to stick to new Sunday trading laws

PUBLIC and private sector lawyers are warning retailers to comply with the Government's new Sunday trading laws and avoid paying up to u50,000 in fines.

The new laws, introduced on 28 August following a Parliamentary free vote last December, mean small shops are free to open all day, while bigger stores can choose a six-hour trading period between 10am and 6pm.

The partial deregulation option – put forward by the Shopping Hours Reform Council and backed by Tesco, Boots and J Sainsbury – was initially rejected by council lawyers who claimed restricted trading hours would create more work for authorities, forcing them to police stores.

Before the new laws retailers could be fined up to u2,000 for trading illegally. However, stores now face a maximum fine of u50,000.

Tony Thompson, partner and head of litigation at City firm Macfarlanes, says stores should be aware of the new laws and advise authorities of their intention to open.

Thompson, who represents a number of the larger retail groups, says shops should also display a notice of intention during Sunday hours.

"Although Parliament has relaxed the rules, the punishment for failing to comply with them is considerably more swingeing. My advice is to comply with the rules because they're pretty straightforward," he says.

Roger Butterfield, principal legal officer for Kirklees Borough Council, says shops "should stick to the letter of the law".

"All local authorities have the duty of enforcing the law and should set up some sort of system to ensure that the law is abided," he says.

"This could vary between officers going out to check every Sunday or every now and then, or councils saying they plan to act on complaints. Speaking from our experience in Kirklees, now that the law has been established and a fine of u50,000 has been set, all large stores are taking it very seriously."