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Article United Kingdom: Government Proposes 'Protect Duty' Bill

On December 19, 2022, the government of the United Kingdom (U.K.) proposed a bill, to be known as Martyn’s Law, introducing a duty to protect people in the U.K. from the threat posed by terrorist attacks. There have been 14 terrorist attacks in the U.K. that have caused deaths and injury since 2017. The government stated that the “threat we currently face is multifaceted, diverse, and continually evolving. As such, it remains difficult to predict which locations could be targeted by terrorists with attempts being harder to spot and harder to stop.” The government considers that “robust, proportionate, and consistent measures at public places” are necessary to improve security and that, without a legal duty, “counter terrorism security efforts often fall behind legally required activities. The prioritisation, consideration and application of security processes and measures is currently inconsistent.”

The proposed bill would apply to premises — considered to be buildings, or locations or events that have a defined boundary, that have a maximum occupancy that meets a specified threshold — where “qualifying activities” occur. These activities include, but are not limited to entertainment, leisure, museums, galleries, sports grounds, visitor attractions, places serving food and drink, places of worship, and places providing health and education. The duty would apply to those responsible for these locations and require them to “consider the threat from terrorism and implement appropriate and proportionate mitigation measures.” The government anticipates that mitigation measures would take the form of enhanced security systems and improved staff training.

To help ensure that the measures are proportionate, the government has proposed a two-tier system based on the activities at, location of, and occupancy of the premises. The standard tier would apply to locations with a maximum capacity of over 100 but under 800, such as large bars, restaurants, or retail stores, and to almost all places of worship regardless of capacity. Standard tier “duty holders” would be required to undertake activities designed to improve protective security and preparedness. These activities include attending a free training, raising awareness of any threats, and a compiling a preparedness plan. The government anticipates that these measures would increase the preparedness of staff and help them make rapid decisions and respond quickly if a terrorist attack were to occur.

The enhanced tier would cover locations with a capacity of over 800 people, and include live music venues, theaters, and department stores. Enhanced tier duty holders would be required to prepare a risk assessment and security plan that “assess[es] the balance of risk reduction against the time, money and effort required to achieve a successful level of security preparedness” in accordance with a reasonably practicable standard. The government has proposed that the law would be enforced through inspections that would use education, advice, and sanctions to secure compliance with the law.

To ensure proportionately and prevent the bill from imposing an undue burden on businesses and organizations, some exemptions would apply to locations that are already required to meet transport security regulations; those that are typically vacant or permanently closed; those where the occupancy rarely meets the numbers specified in the proposed legislation; and offices and private residential locations.

Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
January 27, 2023

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Feikert-Ahalt, Clare. United Kingdom: Government Proposes 'Protect Duty' Bill. 2023. Web Page.

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