On the publication of the results of an 18-week consultation into the proposed Protect Duty legislation, the Government announced plans to introduce legislation to mandate the inclusion of anti-terrorism measures at all UK venues with a capacity of more than 100. The call for such legislation has been led by Figen Murray, mother of Martyn Hett who was one of 22 people who died in the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. In this opinion piece written for EN sister publication Access All Areas she emphasises the importance of the legislation being robust, standalone, and not tagged on to any licensing or health and safety law.
The long-awaited response from the public consultation on ‘Martyn’s Law’ was finally published early in January and the first reaction on social media platforms across the board was that it was not a response at all! Puzzled at first, I realised that the 40-page document was indeed a summary of the findings rather than a response.
It nevertheless made interesting reading as it gave an overview of the response, highlighting some of the strengths and weaknesses of what is proposed. The fact that 2,755 stakeholders engaged with the consultation was very encouraging. It was also great to see seven out of 10 participants agreeing that this legislation is needed and that venues should prepare for a possible attack. Although there was a discussion around capacity and thresholds, it was interesting to see that 58% of people felt that no publicly accessible location should be exempt from the duty.
I was shocked when I saw that only 50% of participants carried out risk assessments. As a mother having lost her son to a terrorist attack, I found this figure incredibly disheartening. However, Nick Aldworth – one of my co-campaigners and a very counter-terrorism-savvy colleague – was impressed by the fact that 50% of participants already engage in risk assessments without being obliged to do so yet.
How compliance around the Protect Duty should work is understandably widely seen as a concern. Stakeholders are worried about the financial impact the duty would have. Some were dubious about penalties enforced if people did not adhere to new regulations. Some of the more constructive responders felt the introduction of an inspectorate would help identify work that may still need to happen to bed the legislation in properly. They clearly saw the benefits of an inspectorate, whereas others saw the very same inspectorate as Big Brother watching them.
“It is now up to the Government to introduce a sound piece of legislation to deliver its promise to the people.”
An inspectorate could be the ideal entity to identify areas for improvement, help deliver key objectives of the Duty and act as a platform for sharing best practice. Just over 50% of respondents felt that issuing fines for non-compliance would serve to guarantee organisational buy-in, compliance and accountability.
As far as financial impact is concerned, clearly proportionality comes to play here. A small 100-person capacity cinema would not require a metal detector arch, but it may simply require bag searches or a new back door lock. It may require a risk assessment with all exit doors being secure but with a solid counter-terrorism action plan and free-of-charge counter terrorism awareness training so that staff are clear what to do in an attack.
It is important that the Government response resulting from this consultation is robust, crystal clear, straightforward, and strong. It would be a great disappointment after all the campaigning we did if the Government decided to use soft touch language within the proposed legislation. Words such as ‘optional’, ‘guidance’ or ‘recommendation’ would be a disaster and would have the potential for the legislation not being taken seriously enough.
Terrorist attacks destroy lives. It is now up to the Government to introduce a sound piece of legislation to deliver its promise to the people – keeping the public safe from harm is meant to be the Government’s top priority.
Figen Murray will be among the Event Production Show conference speakers on 9 March at ExCel London. Register to attend for free here.
This opinion piece features in the latest edition of Access All Areas magazine