Protect Duty counter-terror and security bill – Draft legislation to be published in spring 2023

Monday 19 December 2022 -

The counter-terror Protect Duty bill – otherwise known as Martyn’s Law – moved ahead another step in the legislative process in December, with draft legislation set to be published in spring 2023.

This is an important moment for the bill, which has been beset by delays in recent years for several reasons. In October, Figen Murray, mother of Martyn Hett who died in the Manchester Arena attack, personally called upon the new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to keep the Protect Duty on the legislative agenda.

The bill had also been referenced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022, where Prince Charles said that measures would be introduced “to support the security services and ensure the safety of its people”, while it was later confirmed in the full document. The Government also published its response to the Protect Duty public consultation earlier this year, which sought views from stakeholders on how the incoming legislation can make the public safer at publicly accessible locations.

Background to the Protect Duty

The Protect Duty, previously known as ‘Martyn’s Law’, will be a new piece of anti-terrorism legislation, designed to ensure the public is better protected from a “multifaceted, diverse and continually evolving” terror threat. Its purpose has been outlined as to “keep people safe by introducing new security requirements for certain public locations and venues to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks”. It follows a campaign from Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett who sadly lost his life in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in May 2017, who has highlighted the need to improve security standards in crowded public spaces and venues.

An Inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack is currently ongoing, with reports across two volumes having been published so far. The Protect Duty will extend and apply across the UK and will now go through the various stages of the legislative process, including readings in the House of Commons and House of Lords before it becomes law.

It will require venues and local authorities to draw up preventative plans against terror attacks, following a tiered model that will be linked to the activity that takes place at a particular venue. A standard tier will apply to venues with maximum capacities of 100 and above, while an enhanced tier will be applied to those venues considered to be high-capacity locations.

Figen Murray spoke at IFSEC in May 2022, having earlier presented to a group of security professionals responsible for protecting publicly accessible locations across the country. Watch her interview with IFSEC Global from the show.

The main elements of the draft bill are:

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.

On the announcement that the Bill will be introduced in Spring 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The way the city of Manchester came together as a community in the wake of the cowardly Manchester Arena attack, and the amazing work of campaigners like Figen Murray who have dedicated their lives to making us safer and promoting kindness and tolerance, is an inspiration to us all.

“I am committed to working with Figen to improve security measures at public venues and spaces and to delivering this vital legislation to honour Martyn’s memory and all of those affected by terrorism.”

Protect Duty consultation

The Government has said it is “committed to improving the safety and security of public venues”, with the consultation designed to consider how to “develop proportionate security measures to improve public security”.

The initial Protect Duty consultation opened to the public and industry in February 2021, and was targeted at all those who own or operate publicly accessible locations that a ‘Protect Duty’ would potentially affect, including:

  • Venues
  • Organisations
  • Businesses
  • Local authorities
  • Public authorities
  • Individuals

In total, the consultation received 2755 responses through a variety of organisations, sectors and campaigners, with the majority supporting the Government’s proposals to introduce stronger measures, including a legal requirement to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks. Currently, there is no legislative requirement for organisations to consider security measures at the vast majority of public places. It was found that 50% of those who responded to the consultation currently undertake a risk assessment for terrorism.

Crucially, the aim is to implement security measures, but without placing “undue burden” on smaller businesses, and to identify what support would be required from government. Key findings of the Protect Duty consultation include:

70% of respondents agreed that those responsible for publicly accessible locations should take measures to protect the public – including ensuring staff were trained appropriately

Strong views were expressed regarding accountability, such as the need for clear roles and responsibilities – particularly amongst event organisers and owners

Half the respondents were in favour of an inspectorate that would identify key vulnerabilities and areas for improvement, as well as share best practice

66% of respondents disagreed with the Government’s cost and benefit estimates, citing additional costs such as added policing requirements, potential business closures of small businesses due to extra costs and insurance premiums.

Respondents 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, amongst others.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “Following the tragic attack at the Manchester Arena, we have worked closely with Figen Murray, victims’ groups and partners to develop proposals to improve protective security around the country. I am grateful for their tireless commitment to the duty and those who responded to the consultation; the majority of whom agreed tougher measures are needed to protect the public from harm.”

“We will never allow terrorists to restrict our freedoms and way of life, which is why we are committed to bringing forward legislation this year, that will strike the right balance between public safety, whilst not placing excessive burden on small businesses.”

In the ministerial foreword to the Government’s response, Damian Hinds MP, Minister for Security and Borders, noted: “The Protect Duty would be one means by which we seek to further enhance public security, sitting alongside our existing and ongoing work programmes to achieve this aim. I have noted the strength of views expressed in response to several consultation questions, that it is right that those responsible for public places should take measures to protect the public and to prepare their staff to respond appropriately.

“In short, taking measures to ensure that there is an appropriate and consistent approach to protective security and preparedness at public places is a reasonable ask. However, the responses also highlighted the challenge of which organisations should be in the scope, and what would constitute proportionate security measures. This includes ensuring that there is not an undue burden on organisations, particularly those which are smaller in size or staffed by volunteers, such as places of worship. These are issues I am considering carefully.

“The Government’s impact assessment for the Duty and its requirements will also robustly assess the question of costs and burdens further.”

What do we mean by ‘publicly accessible location’? And what’s the scope being considered?

A publicly accessible location has been defined by the Government as: “Any place which the public or any section of the public has access, 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 & universities, places of worship, parks, transport hubs and many more.

Considerations for the scope include legislating for publicly accessible venues to legally require robust security risk assessments and to act on those findings, to better protect the public.

The consultation document outlined four key questions that respondents and stakeholders need to consider, which are:

  • Who (or where) should legislation apply to?
  • What should the requirements be for those parties within the scope?
  • How should compliance work?
  • How should government best support and work with partners?

In the ministerial foreword for the consultation, the late James Brokenshire, then-Security Minister, said: “There is much good work already being done by many organisations, and I welcome these ongoing efforts. However, in the absence of a legislative requirement, there is no certainty that considerations of security are undertaken by those operating the wide variety of sites and places open to the public, or, where they are undertaken, what outcomes are achieved. This consultation considers how we could improve this position, through reasonable and not overly burdensome security measures.”

To further support the public and private sector, the Home Office is collaborating with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) and Pool Reinsurance 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. Read more.