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Protect Duty ‘far reaching’ ACS webinar hears

The proposed UK-wide Protect Duty – whereby owners of public spaces will have a legal responsibility for site security, to counter terrorism – will have an enforcement regime like the UK’s ICO for data protection, so a webinar by the Association of Security Consultants (ASC) heard yesterday.

A consultation by the Home Office on the Duty – arising from the Martyn’s Law campaign, itself arising from the Manchester Arena terror attack of May 2017 – is running for 18 weeks to July 2. Home Office speakers at the webinar outlining the proposals urged listeners to take part in the consultation online. The Government wants to hear views on four areas:

– the scope of the Duty (proposed is a responsibility on owners and operators of public venues with a capacity of 100 persons or more, and by organisations with 250 staff or more; and places falling under the Duty ranging from parks and beaches to betting shops, cinemas and theatres, besides ‘crowded places’ – now to be renamed in the counter-terror jargon PALs – publicly accessible locations);
– the likely impact of the Duty (although the webinar heard that meeting the Duty need not involve much, or any cost, including risk assessment and staff training, using such material as the UK Government’s ACT app);
– what guidances and regulations the UK Government should set for venue operators and owners, so that they know what to do, what is – a legal term – ‘reasonably practicable’ and proportionate;
– and ‘compliance options’.

A Home Office speaker suggested the data protection regulation, the GDPR, might be a model; that is, including fines for offenders. Or, as with the Environment Agency, a regulator might give civil sanctions. Or, like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the regulator might go through the criminal courts. The model for regulating site security would be health and safety; or, fire safety. Whichever the UK Government chooses, there will be an inspection regime, although which is not known yet; although the Home Office speakers appeared to rule out the police carrying out inspections.

But the webinar audience was left in no doubt that what a Home Office speaker called ‘an enhanced security improvement culture’ that the Duty is intended to promote – like health and safety – will mean an inspection and enforcement regime. While with one breath the Home Office speaker said that the regime would advise on improving security systems, rather than being punitive; in the next breath that regime would be fining for ‘repeated non-compliance’.

A lawyer speaking to the webinar described how the proposal was ‘very far reaching’ and had ‘massive implications’ and would affect ‘huge areas’, including churches, hospitals, high streets, and open spaces. He raised several legal queries – what would be the definition of public land, and who would be in charge of what on the boundary of two ‘publicly accessible locations’ – the grey nature of ownership outside the Manchester Arena (space belonging to neighbouring Victoria railway station, and British Transport Police, or not) being a notable factor in the Manchester Arena Inquiry, begun last year. For the first time, a Protect Duty will require those responsible for a venue or location that could be a potential terror target to engage with one another – a cultural change, the lawyer suggested. That is to be welcomed, he added, but will require some getting used to, he said.

The two-hour webinar, did air, without getting answers, such questions as whether the UK Government is seeking to share or even offload responsibility for countering terrorism; and whether the good intentions of the Home Office – such as that any regulation will be ‘light touch’ – will be carried into the law and its enforcement, the lawyer recalling that regulations about coronavirus lockdown were variously and sometimes over-zealously enforced by some police last year.

A Home Office speaker conceded that the Government has ‘slightly too many places’ for people to go to online for counter-terror advice. The webinar did hear that the Home Office has been speaking to the terrorism re-insurer Pool Re, regarding the Duty.

You can view the consultation at

The next ASC event for members is a Business Group on May 13.

Picture by Mark Rowe; Fishmongers Hall beside London Bridge, scene of November 2019 terror attack.


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