Prevent and protect

  • 1st July 2024


Nicky Miller and Natalie Wargent assess a new law that will impose duties on schools to mitigate threats from terrorism


The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, known interchangeably as the Protect Duty or Martyn’s Law, was highlighted by King Charles in his 2023 King’s Speech, indicating that it is on the government’s to-do list this parliamentary session.

The government launched a public consultation (now closed) following feedback on the new Bill’s requirements and have said that the Bill will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows. So, while we don’t know exactly when it will be enacted, we do know that it’s important for schools to start preparing for it.

In its current form, the draft Protect Duty provides a mandate for organisations, including schools, to increase security measures to reduce their vulnerability to terrorist attacks, either in public spaces or at events. This proposed duty requires a proactive approach to terrorist threat assessment and prevention. For schools, this links to safeguarding pupils, staff and visitors from terrorism-related risks, building on existing duties under the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations (ISSRs), National Minimum Standards (NMS) for boarding schools, and Health and Safety legislation for schools to keep pupils and staff safe from harm.

The Protect Duty itself forms part of the government’s wider Contest strategy to reduce the risk from terrorism to the UK, its citizens and interests overseas so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. There are four component parts of Contest: Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare, and schools will already be familiar with their duties under the Prevent Duty, which aims to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

The government considers that without legal compulsion, counterterrorism security efforts often fall behind legally required activities, such as health and safety. The UK’s security services assess that individuals are more likely to take action that can reduce harm and save lives, if they have considered what they would do, and how, prior to a terrorist attack occurring and this approach has informed the new Protect Duty.

How will the Protect Duty affect schools?

The draft Bill introduces new antiterrorism obligations for controllers of premises and events where a substantial number of the public, more than 100 individuals, may have access. This includes both qualifying public events and premises and introduces a two-tiered approach, categorised into Standard and Enhanced tiers, which are based on size and significance.

The Standard tier applies to events with a capacity ranging from 100 to 799 attendees, while the Enhanced tier is tailored to larger venues and events accommodating 800 or more individuals. These tiers carry varying levels of duties and responsibilities, and will require registration and notification processes to a newly established regulator.

The planned enforcement mechanism for the Protect Duty is robust, and the new regulator will be empowered to impose fines for non-compliance. Standard tier fines may reach up to £10,000, while Enhanced tier fines could escalate up to £18 million or 5% of an organisation’s worldwide revenue. Furthermore, individuals may face prosecution and imprisonment for violations.

The draft legislation confirms that schools with a public capacity of more than 100 will be required to meet the Standard tier, but further clarification of the meaning of ‘public access’ and ‘public capacity’ is awaited.

What steps should schools take in preparation for the Protect Duty?

Schools should already have in place many of the Protect Duty requirements under existing compliance and management frameworks as prescribed by the ISSRs, NMS and the more general duty to keep pupils safe from harm under existing Health and Safety Law. Proportionality is a key consideration of the Protect Duty and many schools will have already considered security risk and critical incident response as part of their risk assessment process. If so, it may not require significant further work on their part other than an increased focus on antiterrorism, a review of existing security arrangements and registration with the regulator.

Nevertheless, the introduction of a new enforcement agency as part of the Protect Duty suggests a sharper focus on regulation in this area and, as such, schools may wish to review their existing security and critical incident arrangements through an antiterrorism lens, in anticipation of the change in legislation.

In preparation, schools may wish to contact specialist advisors such as Counter Terrorist Policing for training and support. They may also wish to consider raising awareness of the Protect Duty with governors and staff, sharing information and risk assessing events to ensure that staff are prepared to respond quickly to evolving situations and have the confidence to make quick and effective decisions which have the potential to save lives.

The following is a checklist of things to consider when preparing for the new Protect Duty:

  • Review existing security and critical incident arrangements to reflect the requirements of the new Protect Duty.
  • Update the risk register and consider doing a terrorism risk assessment using the draft standard terrorism evaluation published by the Home Office as a guide.
  • Identify, implement and practise control measures, including crisis and emergency response plans, tailored to your school.
  • Carry out training for staff to enhance awareness and practise emergency response capabilities in the event of a terrorist incident. Training is provided free of charge by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) (see QR Code below).
  • Review critical incident communication plans in the event of a terrorist incident. Consider how you keep staff and other stakeholders updated in real time with relevant information as an incident develops.
  • Seek guidance from security experts, leveraging free resources like Counter Terrorism Policing for specialist advice (see QR Code below).
  • Initiate discussions with insurers and brokers to anticipate and address potential changes in insurance coverage concerning terrorism-related risks and compliance.

In essence, schools should be proactive in their preparations for the implementation of the Protect Duty by reviewing existing security arrangements and making sure they keep up to date with the new legislation.

Nicky Miller is a schools advisor and Natalie Wargent is a legal director at law firm VWV.

Nikki Miller


Natalie Wargent

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