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Legal spotlight - March 22

09 February 2022

UK government commits to introduce Protect Duty for UK venue operators. Kevin Bridges provides an insight.

The UK government has committed to introduce a new law requiring venue operators to consider the risk of a terrorist attack and take proportionate and reasonable measures to prepare and protect the public from such an attack.

The commitment is contained in the government’s Response document to their Protect Duty consultation last year. The new ‘protect duty’ commitment comes after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, when 22 people were killed as they left an Ariana Grande performance, with the 2021 consultation forming part of the government’s manifesto commitment to improve public security in the face of ongoing terrorist threats. The Response document sets out the key statistics and themes from the responses received, as well as from various related stakeholder events. They will now be used to inform the government’s thinking in developing their planned legislation, although no date has been given on when progress with this can be expected.

The Response document notes that two thirds (70%) of respondents backed proposals for a law requiring venue operators to take appropriate and proportionate measures to protect the public from attacks, including staff training, with half supporting the use of civil penalties to ensure compliance with the proposed public duty.

While the majority of respondents agreed in principle with a central pillar of the consultation proposals - 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 – they also highlighted the challenge of determining which organisations should be in scope of such an obligation, what would constitute proportionate security measures and 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. Most respondents agreed that the duty should apply to all “publicly accessible locations”, defined in the consultation as any place to 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, with no exemptions.

Despite general agreement with the aims of the proposed duty, concern about its detail and operation in practice was a recurrent theme in responses, with questions including the geographical extent of the duty (ie would it apply only to the venue or include the footprint just outside); how would it deal with franchisees, concessions staff, tenants/leaseholders and concern that the protect duty may negatively impact organisations financially. There were also questions over how the duty defined both terrorism and terrorist acts, and the implications of those definitions on incidents that were not motivated by terrorism, but which had similar outcomes.

The government’s response document does not provide a solution to these concerns. Echoing developments seen in other areas however, it confirms a commitment to create a culture of safety and to harness private sector resources to drive improvements. Significantly, however, the government acknowledges that “it is essential that a range of tools, guidance and support is delivered to ensure that the ask of those in scope of the Protect Duty is understandable and deliverable.”

The Home Office said the government intended to introduce the legislation to parliament at the “earliest opportunity” though no date was given.

If the government’s aim to “create a culture of security, with a consistency of application and a greater certainty of effect” is to be achieved, this must be front and centre in their deliberations. 

Kevin Bridges is a partner and head of health and safety at Pinsent Masons. For more information, visit www.pinsentmasons.com