Until now protective security at UK venues has been entirely voluntary. ‘Martyn’s Law’ will change this, bringing in legal requirements for many venues – including churches – to ensure public safety on their premises.
Following the Manchester Arena bombing attack in 2017, Martyn’s Law aims at preventing such acts of terrorism. While clearly having good aims, many venues have expressed concern that undue burdens might be placed upon them in order to comply, felt particularly by smaller venues with limited resources.
Now that draft legislation has been published, we have a better understanding of the effect this legislation may have on the activities of churches and other Christian ministries.
NB: The provisions of the Bill extend and apply to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, save for the provisions at clause 38 and Schedule 3 (which amend the Licensing Act 2003) which apply to England and Wales only.
What will the bill do?
The ‘Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill’ will create two tiers of venue (premises) based on their capacity, each with different levels of requirements. There will be ‘Standard duty premises’, and ‘Enhanced duty premises’. In addition, there will be ‘qualifying public events’.
Standard duty premises will have a capacity of 100 to 799, while Enhanced duty premises will have a capacity of 800 or more. Premises with a capacity of less than 100 will not have any requirements under the new law, though optional guidance and training materials will be made available. Offices and private dwellings will not be subject to the requirements.
Public capacity will be calculated in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State. Though we can’t say with confidence, we would anticipate that venue capacity will be directed and determined by those occupancy numbers calculated in a venue’s ‘fire risk assessment’.
An important exemption, a significant exception
Significantly, the Bill provides a concession for ‘places of worship’. Premises that satisfy the usage criteria as set out in Schedule 1 of the Bill will be treated as Standard duty premises even when they would otherwise be Enhanced duty premises.
For places of worship the usage criteria are:
- “communal worship, or
- other communal religious practice, in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or religious denomination.”
As such, it would appear that most – if not all – church services, activities and events will likely fall within this concession and therefore be exempted from the additional requirements for Enhanced duty premises, even if their capacity is greater than 800.
An exception to this would seem to be a ticketed event or conference hosted by a Christian conference centre or camp. If these premises have a capacity over 800, and are not ‘qualifying public premises’ (i.e. they are not normally open to the general public), an event here would be classed as a ‘qualifying public event’, and subject to the Enhanced duty premises requirements for that particular event.
As the emphasis for events seems to be on the person(s) in control of the premises, for churches or organisations using a private venue for a qualifying public event, it would appear that the onus would still be on the venue operators to meet the legal obligations. Venue operators’ involvement will vary though, and as a minimum there will clearly be a need for joined up cooperation and coordination between each party in such circumstances.
What duties will be required?
Both Standard and Enhanced duty premises (as well as qualifying events) will be required to have a “responsible person”. This is the person “who has control of the premises in connection with their relevant Schedule 1 use”. This person (or persons) must ensure the premises are registered with the regulator (or in the case of a qualifying event, notify the regulator in advance of the event).
Standard duty premises
Standard duty premises or events will be required to undertake “basic, low-cost activities to improve preparedness”, that is, to give basic anti-terrorism protection training. They will need to provide this training to all “relevant workers”, that is, all persons classed as workers for the church or organisation you consider relevant for this type of training.
Standard duty premises will also need to undertake a “standard terrorism evaluation”. This needs to be carried out and maintained by the responsible person, who will need to ensure a copy is provided to all those who work at the premises. The evaluation must be reviewed whenever a “material change” is made to the premises or before the end of a period of 12 months, whichever comes first. A change is considered “material” if it’s reasonable to assume that that change would materially affect the standard terrorism evaluation of that premises.
Enhanced duty premises
Enhanced duty premises (and qualifying public events) will be under the same obligation to provide anti-terrorism training to all relevant workers on their premises, but will have a number of additional obligations. They will need to:
- appoint a designated senior officer for the premises (or event);
- carry out and regularly review a terrorism risk assessment;
- implement reasonably practicable security measures to reduce the risk of, and harm caused by, terrorist acts occurring at or near the premises or event; and
- prepare and maintain a security plan, which must be provided to the regulator.
The regulator will have a number of investigatory powers permitting information gathering, and entry and inspection of premises. They will be able to issue “contravention notices” in the event that premises are not meeting their legal obligations. A “restriction notice” may be given when the regulator deems an Enhanced duty premises or qualifying public event unsafe for the public, and could include intervention on the part of the regulator. Non-compliance could result in civil monetary penalties, and even be a criminal offence in certain circumstances.
What remains unclear?
While the draft legislation has helped to flesh out what duties and requirements there will be, a number of questions still remain:
Who will the regulator be, and how will venues interact with them? The regulator could be the Secretary of State, but is yet to be confirmed. How venues submit documents to the regulator, what form those documents should take and whether there will be templates to access remains unclear.
Who will your ‘responsible person(s)’ be? The draft Bill states that this will be the person in control of the premises in line with their official use. For a church, does that mean the pastor? All elders or trustees? A church warden? Further guidance for places of worship would be welcomed here.
As touched on above, the extent of an organisations’ legal responsibilities when using a private venue for a qualifying public event could also benefit from some further clarification.
What if you don’t own your premises? How churches or Christian groups that rent their place of worship – for example, meet in a school or community hall – engage with these requirements is also unclear. The Bill gives the example of an individual store within a shopping centre, noting that the shopping centre and individual store could both be qualifying premises with obligations under the Bill (where the person responsible for the store must liaise with the operator of the shopping centre as necessary for each of them to fulfil their organisation’s duties under the Bill). Would a church meeting in a school hall be a separate qualifying premises? How would it engage with the school as its own qualifying premises with its own separate obligations? In this scenario, the school’s governance will need to lead on such decisions, but either way, joined up cooperation and coordination between each party will be required to ensure all obligations are met. We would also therefore welcome further clarification here.
What should you do to prepare?
There will be some delay before the formal introduction of the legislation, as the draft Bill will now be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee, though it’s not yet clear when this might be.
Guidance and resources have been promised to venues from the regulator. In the meantime the ProtectUK website hosts some advice, training and guidance on this topic.
We encourage churches and other Christian ministries with their own premises to begin thinking through how they will meet the relevant requirements –
- Who would be your ‘relevant workers’ for terrorism training purposes?
- Who would be your ‘responsible person(s)’?
- Do you need to liaise with other parties? For example if you meet in a school, it may be prudent to discuss how you might work through this together.
- Begin thinking about what an anti-terrorism evaluation/risk assessment would look like for your premises or event. Your existing health and safety plans would be a good place to start.
- For Enhanced duty premises and qualifying events, think about who your senior officer could be. Consider what steps could be taken to reduce the risk of an act of terrorism, and start drafting a security plan. Again, your existing health and safety plans would be a good place to start here.
Obviously there are still plenty of unknowns, but at this stage, particularly for the majority of churches, thankfully the requirements do not look overly burdensome.
We will aim to provide further updates as more information becomes available.
This information has been provided by solicitors working for Edward Connor Solicitors. It is designed for the purpose of knowledge sharing only and does not constitute legal advice.
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