This morning, the Home Office published its analysis of the responses to last year’s consultation about the introduction of a new legislative duty – the Protect duty – to assess and take steps to mitigate the risk of terrorist attacks. The duty would apply to organisations of a certain size and to operators of venue/places to which the public has access. The duty will apply to the private and public sector alike and relevant legislation should be expected in a matter of months.
Much of the impetus behind the proposed duty is the sustained campaigning by those who lost family members in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. That is reflected in the commitment in the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto to Introduce this new duty:
We will keep our country safe from terrorism. We will invest in the police and security services and give them the powers they need to combat new threats. In the wake of the terrible events in Manchester in 2017, we will improve the safety and security of public venues.
The Home Office-led consultation in 2021 was very much about the broad themes of the duty, such as: the type and size of those organisations and places that would be subject to it, the need for an inspection and enforcement regime, ensuring that the complying with the duty is not operationally disproportionate or excessively costly, and the legal nature of the duty itself. On this last aspect, the material published today seems to indicate that the duty is likely to be implemented on a ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ basis (although the point is not entirely settled).
Regarding the likely cost of compliance, two thirds of consultees disagreed with the government’s initial cost and benefit estimates. The clear sense is that the cost was underestimated and the government has said it will look again at the financial burdens and produce an up to date impact assessment in due course.
In addition to cost, most aspects of the new duty will require further activity and/or consultation to work up the necessary detail for a new Bill (and accompanying regulations, if needed). We would expect that to take place in the next few months. The Home Secretary is quoted today as being “committed to bringing forward legislation this year”, which very probably means that a Bill to this effect will be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in the late spring.