Terrorism Law Reform: Compliance and Coverage for Property Owners

5 December 2023
By Amy Lacey

The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill was confirmed by the King’s Speech on 7 November 2023 for the legislative agenda in the year ahead.  Also known as ‘Martyn’s Law’ in tribute to Martyn Hett, who was tragically killed in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, the proposals are aimed at enhancing security and mitigating risks of terrorism in public venues such as music halls, stadiums, theatres, festivals and shopping centres.

Mandatory requirements would be imposed on operators of crowded premises throughout the UK to prepare for and seek to prevent terrorist attacks, overseen by a regulator with powers to issue enforcement notices and impose fines or criminal sanctions.  The new measures focus on risk assessment, planning, mitigation and security protection training, with the level of duty depending on the type of premises:

  • Venues with capacity of 100 individuals or less fall outside the scope of the Bill. However, these premises are encouraged to adopt the spirit of the legislation and implement voluntary measures to reduce the risk (which may be relevant in the context of licensing applications).
  • Venues with capacity over 100 people are ‘standard tier’ premises, required to undertake basic security measures including staff training, public awareness campaigns and development of a preparedness plan.
  • Venues with capacity of 800 or more are ‘advanced tier’ premises subject to additional requirements including: notification to the regulator of the premises or event, and its designated senior individual, where the responsible person is a company; taking all reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks or physical harm occurring, for example, bag searches and metal detectors in appropriate cases; and maintaining a security document evaluating the risk assessment and planned response, for submission to the regulator.
  • Venues with capacity over 5,000 or hosting specific types of activities, such as major sporting events or concerts, will be subject to more stringent requirements covering the risk assessment and security planning process.

Government consultation is continuing with industry stakeholders on the scope of duties reasonably deliverable for standard tier locations, to strike a fair balance between public protection and the need to avoid excessive burdens on smaller premises.

The Home Affairs Select Committee raised concerns about proportionality, and the impact on small businesses or voluntary and community-run organisations.  Implementation costs of £2,160 for standard tier premises and around £80,000 for enhanced premises were estimated by the Home Office, over a ten year period, but these figures have been queried amid concern that costs will escalate.  The idea of staged implementation focusing initially on enhanced tier venues has been suggested by some commentators, whilst others believe this would increase the threat to smaller locations and put lives at risk.

Critics argue the draft Bill is not fit for purpose to adequately reduce terrorism risk, which may vary significantly based on the event or persons attending rather than the size of venue, especially since most provisions are directed towards mitigating the consequences of attacks, rather than preventing them from happening.  Jonathan Hall KC, the Independent Reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that most attacks since 2010 would be outside the scope of the Bill; and campaigners argue current exemptions for outdoor Christmas markets and mass sporting events, such as marathons, should be lifted.  Further improvements are recommended in areas including mandatory life-saving training, statutory provision for security to be considered in the design of new public buildings, and improved systems for procurement and training of security staff.

The events (re)insurance market is likely to see increased demand for terrorism-specific policies, or extensions to existing property programmes.  It will be easier in future to identify whether operators of premises affected by terrorist attacks took reasonable steps to minimise risk, and respond appropriately to such events, judged against the new mitigation guidelines.  Insurers will be apprehensive at the prospect of enhanced duties and liabilities, during the initial period whilst changes are introduced and understood, which may lead to increased casualty pricing or restricted terms of coverage.  The scope of management liability insurance should also be considered for businesses operating in this sector, to cover potential mistakes by directors and officers tasked with implementation of additional controls.

There have been 14 terror attacks in the UK since 2017, representing a complex and evolving risk affecting a broad range of locations.  Subject to fine-tuning during the process of detailed scrutiny through both Houses of Parliament, the new legislation is broadly welcomed as raising the bar on public safety, helping leisure, entertainment and retail premises to be better prepared and ready to respond to security threats.

Amy Lacey is a Partner at Fenchurch Law