Last reviewed 8 June 2022

The UK Government is pushing ahead with plans to introduce a new legal duty for those who own or manage public venues that will require them to protect occupiers from terrorist attacks. Mike Sopp looks at why this duty is needed and what it may entail.

Introduction

The Queen’s Speech on 10 May 2022 set out the Government’s legislative programme for the coming year. Included in the Speech was detail of the Government’s wish to introduce a “Draft Protect Duty Bill”.

The purpose of the proposed new legislation is to “keep people safe by introducing new security requirements for certain public locations and venues to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks”.

Although details are yet to be published, the proposed legislation has the potential to place additional duties on a wide range of organisations.

Need for Change

The UK has and continues to be at risk from terrorist attacks. This includes the tragic events of May 2017, which saw 22 innocent people lose their lives as a result of a terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. Many more suffered life changing injuries.

As a result of this attack and other incidents, several victims groups have been campaigning for a change in legislation to compel venues to take positive action to protect those in venues from terrorist attacks. This is often known as the “Martyn’s law campaign”.

This gained political support with the Conservative party 2019 general election manifesto including a commitment to “improve the safety and security of public venues”.

Following the Manchester Arena attack, a public inquiry was set up. Key findings from the first stage of this inquiry concluded that there was a level of complacency in respect of counter terrorism and that the security arrangements at the Arena failed to prevent or minimise the impact of the attack.

The inquiry noted that at the time of the attack “there was no statutory duty which referred specifically to the requirement to assess the risk of terrorism or put in place measures to mitigate that risk”.

The inquiry noted that “the unanimous view of all those who expressed a view to this Inquiry, was that the voluntary nature of the CTSA system and the lack of any specific legal duty to identify and mitigate the risk of terrorism has posed problems”.

This is supported by the Government. In the Queen’s Speech document, they state that “independent research conducted in 2019 showed that without legal compulsion, counter terrorism security efforts are often prioritised behind legally required activities. The consideration and application of security processes and measures is inconsistent as a result”.

Consultation

While the Manchester Arena Inquiry was on-going, the Government, in February 2021, published a “Protect Duty Consultation”. The purpose of this consultation was to seek views from all parties how a “Protect Duty” would potentially affect in particular, organisations who own locations or operate at publicly accessible locations.

In particular, it sought opinions on the following key areas.

  • Who should legislation apply to?

  • What the requirements should be?

  • How compliance should work?

  • How should Government work with and support partners?

January 2022 saw the Government publish its response to the consultation. It notes that of the 2755 respondents, 70% of respondents agreed that those responsible for publicly accessible locations should take measures to protect the public including ensuring staff were trained appropriately.

However, the response to who should the legislation apply (ie scope) showed differing views as to how to determine which venues would come under scope ranging from all publicly accessible venues to those with larger capacities.

Respondents also noted the need for accountability with clear roles and responsibilities among event organisers and senior managers. The need to assess risks to ensure appropriate control measures were adopted was noted by 50% of respondents as was the suggestion of an inspectorate to support improvements in security and to use fines as an incentive.

Respondents also noted that guidance to support businesses in complying would be required, with emphasis on clarity, ensuring guidance was specific to different applications, guidance on physical security measures such as CCTV and support with risk assessments, among others.

Of note, there was significant disagreement with the Government over the cost and benefits.  The paper notes that this was a “recurring subject throughout the consultation and its responses was concern that the Duty may negatively impact organisations financially”.

The findings have been fed into the proposals and a Duty Impact Assessment is to be completed to further consider financial implications, in tandem with any wider impact.

Proposed Duty

The Protect Duty has now appeared in the Government programme of future legislation.

In the lobby pack supporting the Queen’s Speech, the Government state that the purpose of the Draft Protect Duty Bill is to “keep people safe by introducing new security requirements for certain public locations and venues to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks”. Applying across the UK, it is suggested that the benefits of the legislation would be to:

  • enhance national security and reduce the risk to the public from terrorism by improving protective security practices in public places

  • provide clarity on protective security and preparedness responsibilities for organisations in scope of the Duty

  • expand the support available to help those responsible for delivering security in public places.

The lobby pack also notes that there will be two key elements to the draft bill, these being:

  • establishing a new requirements framework which requires those in control of certain public locations and venues to consider the threat from terrorism and implement appropriate and proportionate mitigation measures

  • delivering an inspection and enforcement regime, which will seek to educate, advise, and ensure compliance with the Duty.

A publicly accessible location has been defined by the Government as: “Any place which the public or any section of the public has access to, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission”.

This includes a wide range of venues, such as sports stadiums, festivals, hotels, pubs, casinos, high streets, retail centres, schools and universities, places of worship, parks, transport hubs and many more. It remains to be seen which venues will come under scope of the proposed Bill.

Currently, there is significant guidance available to assist organisations, such as that published by the National Counter Security Office (NaCTSO) and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).

To further support the public and private sector, the Home Office is collaborating with NaCTSO to develop a new interactive online platform, which will provide advice, guidance, e-learning and other helpful content.

In the consultation, 74% of respondents felt that a single, digital service to access relevant material, advice and training would be useful in assisting compliance.

Summary

For many organisations that already implement and follow best practice, the proposed new duty may not have significant impacts.

However, as research has shown, as the duty is currently not a legal requirement, there is a mixed picture as to how best practice is applied.

Organisations that may come in scope and do not currently follow best practice may face increased financial burdens, particularly those that are small or medium-sized enterprises.

Such matters may be taken into account as the draft bill progresses through Parliament. No timescales, as yet, have been given to this.

Further Information

The UK Government response to the Protect Duty Consultation can be found here and the lobby pack accompanying the Queen’s Speech, here.