Written by Gareth Martin, 2nd August 2023
On 27 July 2023, the Home Affairs Select Committee (“the Committee”) published its report into Martyn’s Law, having been asked in May of this year to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill before it is formally introduced in Parliament.
As part of the scrutiny process, the Committee reviewed written evidence from a number of interested parties including the National Association of Local Councils; the Football Association; the Association of Independent Museums; Scottish Rugby; the British Beer and Pub Association and LIVE (Live music Industry, Venues and Entertainment), amongst others.
The Committee also heard oral evidence from individuals including, Jonathan Hall, an independent reviewer of terrorism legislation; Matt Jukes, the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at the Metropolitan Police Service; Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat MP and Figen Murray OBE who has championed the bill from the outset, having lost her son Martyn in the Manchester Arena attack in 2017.
Having watched the oral evidence sessions, it was clear that some members of the Committee had concerns around the potential impact it may have on smaller businesses and voluntary organisations with local parish councils and town halls being referenced more than once. It may come as no surprises, therefore, that in its report the Committee has noted:
“Whilst we welcome the Government’s overall intention behind the Draft Bill, we have some serious concerns about the proportionality of the Bill, especially in relation to the impact on smaller businesses, voluntary and community-run organisations in the standard tier premises, where there is a lack of evidence that the Bill will adequately reduce the threat of terrorism for smaller organisations.”
The Committee have also expressed concerns about unfinished provisions in the draft Bill, the regulator and even the very purpose of the Bill. They have also identified a number of other areas where they believe the Bill could be improved upon.
What does the report say?
Within the report, the Committee have suggested that for those premises which would fall within the proposed standard tier, “there is a lack of evidence that the risk of terrorist threat justifies the measures proposed”. It goes on to state that in the Committee’s opinion, “the whole thrust of the Draft Bill seems to be aimed at bricks and mortar rather than the real target which is a concentration of people or use of buildings by individuals or groups at higher risk of attack”.
As noted above, the Committee have raised concerns around the purpose of the Bill. They have said that the objective “remains opaque” with Mr Tugendhat asserting that the Bill is focused on prevention but others, including the Committee members, concluding that it is rather more focused on the consequences of a terrorist attack. In the circumstances, the Committee have said that the Bill and any associated guidance and regulations must clearly and consistently set out its purpose.
Related to the point around clarity, the Committee have also indicated that the Home Office must undertake a targeted communications campaign as soon as possible to raise awareness of the Bill. This should set out what organisations will be captured by the Bill, the main duties for both tiers and what this is likely to entail for those involved. This recommendation comes on the back of concerns that some of those likely to fall within the scope of the legislation, particularly smaller businesses, are not aware of its progress.
The targeted communications campaign is also intended to prevent the spread of false information and essentially flush out self –styled experts and consultants claiming to have all of the answers to what businesses need to be doing to comply with legislation which as we know is simply not possible given that it has just gone through the scrutiny stage of the process and is still very much in draft format.
On the issue of proportionality, as stated there are concerns about the potential impact, particularly on smaller businesses and the Committee has noted that the basis for the Government’s costs estimates is unclear and they could well be underestimates. As such they have called upon the Home Office to publish the criteria used to calculate the estimated costs so that the premises and Parliament can understand the same.
Interestingly, the Committee have also suggested that the Bill should be implemented in stages with enhanced tier premises being the first. They have said that a yearly review should then be conducted and appropriate research carried out to establish how well the legislation has worked following any terrorist attack, as well as, to establish the threat of terrorism against small and micro-sized businesses. If the research were to suggest sufficient benefit in extending the duties to standard tier premises, then provision to do so would be made as soon as possible.
Amongst other concerns raised, the Committee does not feel as though the draft Bill takes account of the varying terrorist threats which may exist in different parts of the UK, for example the threats that exist in Northern Ireland may be very different to the threats which exist in England which in turn may be different to those in Scotland and Wales. This is something which may need to be reviewed and appropriate guidance issued in the regions as the Bill progresses to become law in due course.
The Committee were also critical of the training requirements outlined in the draft Bill and have said that training should be of a proscribed standard to avoid inconsistent or poor regimes. They have also urged the Government to engage more closely with the voluntary sector in this regard to ensure suitable systems are put in place.
Some of the most significant concerns raised by the Committee relate to the regulator and the many unknowns surrounding the issue. The Committee noted that the draft Bill is “currently incomplete on the identity of the regulator, its governance, and its accountability. There are no provisions setting out who the regulator will be, whether it will be independent or not, how it operates and how it should be accountable.”
As such, the Government have been told to develop concrete proposals on the regulator within two months and make the relevant changes to the draft Bill before introducing it to Parliament. Similarly, the Government have been told to issue all draft guidance accompanying the draft Bill by the end of August 2023 to allow those impacted by it to provide feedback.
As part of the scrutiny process, the Committee have also suggested that the Bill should include a provision for mandatory life-saving training for staff at premises falling within the scope of the legislation and possibly mandating bandage kits at such premises.
In addition, the Government have been urged to incorporate a requirement for new publicly accessible buildings, which would fall within the category of enhanced tier premises, to consider security in the design of the building.
Responding to evidence and concerns raised about the level and standard of training for those working within the security industry, the Committee have also invited the Government to work more closely with the Security Industry Authority to improve and standardise training for security guards across the UK.
As noted in our previous piece on the topic, it will inevitably take time to introduce and implement Martyn’s Law into our daily lives but what is clear, despite the issues raised by the Committee in their most recent report, is that doing nothing is not an option.
We now await the Government’s response to the points made by the Committee and no doubt there will be a number of amendments before the Bill comes before Parliament. With so many unknowns around the specifics of the legislation and when it is likely to come into force, it would premature and perhaps unwise for any business to launch into a full overhaul of their premises, their policies, procedures and training. However, it is not too early to give consideration to the potential measures that you and your business may ultimately need to put in place and doing so now is likely to give you greater control around the planning, costs and implementation of the same.
At Olliers, we can provide specialist legal advice and assistance to you and your business. We can speak to senior management teams and staff regarding the draft legislation and the impact it is likely to have. We also have positive working relationships with commercial lawyers who can assist with venue/event agreements and contracts, as well as, specialist PR consultants to assist with responding to media contact and publishing content around the response to the legislation, where necessary.