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Martyn’s Law | Businesses could be required to formally assess terrorism risk from 2023

Written by Nick Wilson on 21 November 2022

On 22 May 2017, 29-year-old Martyn Hett became one of 22 people killed in a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena. Now, the Protect Duty, also known as Martyn’s Law, aims to provide better protection for the British public to prevent similar incidents.

With some venues still not performing stringent security checks despite a number of terrorist attacks across the UK in recent years, Martyn’s mother, Figen Murray, is campaigning for a series of changes that would boost security at public venues and require businesses to formally assess terrorism risk for the first time.

“I know only too well that nobody is immune from violence of this nature”, she said. “We cannot predict when and where an attack can happen. So as well as trying to track down terrorists before they commit atrocities, we also need to get better at protecting the public from the attacks we cannot foil.”

The government’s consultation findings, published in January this year, revealed that seven in 10 respondents support a legal requirement for some public spaces to ensure preparedness for, and protection from, terrorist attacks – including ensuring staff are trained to respond appropriately.

Many respondents agreed that venue capacity should determine when the duty applies – and half were in favour of an inspectorate, with some in support of using civil penalties to ensure compliance.

At the moment, private and public owners of venues and sites currently have no obligation to act on free advice given to them from specialist counter-terrorism advisers about threats of a terrorist attack and how to mitigate the risk.

"Martyn’s Law doesn’t advocate a one size fits all approach, it’s all about having a plan relevant to the threat. It seems absurd to me that we have legislation that sets out how many toilets a venue must have and how food must be prepared, but nothing that holds those same venues responsible for having basic security in place."

Figen Murray

What would businesses be required to do?

Similar to the need to adhere to rigorous health and safety legislation, the Protect Duty would require businesses to assess the risk of terrorist attacks and take reasonable steps to mitigate against them.

Central to this will be the need to appoint a competent person to undertake (and keep under review) detailed, subjective risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and appropriate, proportionate mitigation measures. This may include:

  • Multi-agency planning and exercising;
  • Training staff to identify and report suspicious behaviour and on how to respond in a crisis;
  • Live CCTV monitoring;
  • Vehicle stop points;
  • Access control, including search and screening with or without the use of technology such as full body scanners);
  • Monitoring and patrols;
  • The ability to lock down; and
  • In-depth crisis response and communication plans.

If you own or operate a public venue or large organisation, the government considers that you should be required to:

  • Use information and guidance provided by the government and police to consider terrorist threats to the public and staff at locations you own or operate.
  • Assess the potential impact of these risks across your functions and estate, and through your systems and processes.
  • Consider and implement ‘reasonably practicable’ protective security and organisational preparedness measures such as those outlined above.
  • Develop a robust plan on how to deal with or act as a result of a terrorist attack.

For smaller organisations and venues, simple low-cost (or no-cost) preparedness measures may suffice, such as ensuring staff are trained on identifying signs of potential terrorist acts, likely attack methods and how to respond, and making sure your response to different attack types is regularly updated and exercised, as terrorist attack methodologies inevitably change.

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When could this come into effect?

The draft ‘Protect Duty’ Bill was one of 38 Bills announced in the Queen’s speech in May, but no Bill has been tabled as yet and there has been no update since then. It is, however, expected to become law in 2023.

With the threat level to the UK from terrorism currently stated as ‘Substantial’, meaning an attack is likely, Ms Murray has said she is worried about the legislation being delayed further and has pleaded with Rishi Sunak to ‘push’ the planned new counter-terrorism legislation up the government’s agenda.

“Right now, with so much turmoil in government, I feel it is a time when security is even more at risk”, she said.

In the interim, businesses should consider how the proposed Protect Duty may apply to them and be mindful of terrorism risk, both in regard to their existing set-ups and any new projects. This may include being more vigilant of suspicious activity in and around your site, assessing your vulnerability to various attack methods, and putting response plans in place, as well as more generally encouraging a security culture in the workplace by ensuring concerns can be easily reported and acted upon.

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