The Protect Duty, first unveiled in February, is a proposed piece of legislation designed to minimise the number and impact of terrorist attacks in public spaces in the UK.

This is a laudable aim, and we support the Government in attempting to provide safety and security for the public; however, some of the proposals within the Protect Duty may not only fail to achieve this aim but may have a detrimental impact on churches. 

The proposals follow a campaign for Martyn’s law’, which focuses on security and preparedness to protect people from terrorism in large entertainment venues. This legislation was spearheaded by Figen Murray, whose son Martyn was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017

The Protect Duty covers a wide range of public spaces including shops, entertainment venues and places of worship that have capacity for at least 100 people. It is meant to adapt to different threat levels. Measures could include increased security, CCTV or action plans. 

The Government has provided guidance that would be useful for a number of venues on how to lower the likelihood of a terrorist attack, such as sharing limited details of floorplans and undertaking frequent risk assessments. Based on the size of the venue, different security considerations are to be considered. One of the most significant parts of the Protect Duty is the venue’s responsibility to mitigate against terrorist attacks. Therefore, there is the possibility that venues could be held accountable for their failure to act. 

Logistical issues, impractical proposals and excessive costs

Given the scale and nature of large sports and entertainment events, there are funds and justification for more security such as is being proposed. However, the same justifications would not apply or be proportionate for churches, especially considering how diverse the church is across the UK

Under the Protect Duty, responsibility and ownership is confused as many churches rent out buildings so it’s unclear where the main responsibility would lie. Things become more complicated as churches can have multiple buildings. In these scenarios, there should be consideration of who has responsibility for an area as these costs are not insignificant, especially for churches where giving is the main source of income. It seems that churches that don’t have a building would not be subject to the Protect Duty, which is inconsistent and creates the possibility of disproportionate security in cases where churches rent large entertainment venues. 

While encouraging security and preparedness is a good thing, it should still be proportionate to risk. A high-tech security system would be nonsensical for a small church in the countryside, but low-cost measures in the Protect Duty may also be unworkable. In theory, it could be low cost to hire someone to provide training in the event of a terrorist attack. But this doesn’t consider the scale or time this could take. Volunteers often play central roles in running a church, so there may not be enough funding or time to continually offer this training. 

Venues will be penalised for not following the Protect Duty. The Government plans to develop an enforcement régime to impose fines on organisations that are in breach of the legislation. There are no details on how this will be carried out for different kinds of organisation or what persistently failing to take reasonable steps to reduce the potential impact of attacks” looks like. There is also no threshold for what is an adequate amount of security or preparedness for a given venue (for example, based on size or use). 

These proposals are applicable based on capacity, such as fire safety regulations. But threats surrounding fire and terrorism are of completely different natures, and it wouldn’t be wise to treat them that way. The types of event held, accessibility and use of a building determines the terrorism threat, while this is not the case for fire. Capacity alone is not adequate for enforcing the Protect Duty and should not be the primary criterion for its application. 

The proposals are better than criminal sanctions for people/​organisations responsible for security if they fail to uphold them, but there will be cases where venues can’t afford to take reasonable steps that are required, and it would be unfair to penalise them for this. It indirectly places the blame on a venue rather than a terrorist, which would be an incorrect way to frame the situation. There would be penalties for perceived negligence and could potentially create scenarios where if mitigation failed, the venue would be more culpable due to the failure’ of their mitigation, than if they hadn’t taken any action. 

The Government should put their aim of developing proportionate security and preparedness for different types of venue at the forefront of its policy proposals. People should be able to feel safe in whatever location they visit, but the Protect Duty should not enforce measures that would be unreasonable and unaffordable.

Barrier to entry to church

The Evangelical Alliance opposes excessive measures that deter people from coming to church, such as bag checks, CCTV and constant reminders to be vigilant. Measures like CCTV and security guards would only be applicable for larger venues, but this would also apply to churches in the UK. There is nothing wrong with these measures in and of themselves but they would detract from a worship service and create a barrier to people attending church which raises human rights and religious liberty concerns. These measures may also be counterproductive, as one of the key parts of terrorism is stirring up fear and altering behaviour, which may happen to congregants disturbed by excessive security measures. This would ironically serve terrorists rather than the public. 

The Government wants to incentivise rather than enforce the Protect Duty; however this will be difficult as some groups will benefit more than others (for example, insurance premium discounts and product certifications/​standards). There should be caution involving insurance companies which may insist on measures being tailored to worst-case scenarios, as mitigation has a tendency to swing towards excess. 

These measures would inevitably deter the general public from attending, which goes against the call of the church. The accessibility of the church is important for people to have an opportunity to hear the gospel. Excessive security is generally a deterrent for people, but this would be of considerable detriment to the church. As we have seen through lockdown, restricting access to places of worship infringes on our freedom of religion and expression, and these proposals do not appear to be proportionate. If building use and the nature of events are considered, the Protect Duty could be applied more appropriately. 

How to respond

We encourage you to respond to the Government consultation on the Protect Duty and highlight how the proposed measures would impact your church practically. The consultation, which is open until 2 July, has a number of questions on venue size, capacity, use, costs and potential risk. It provides the opportunity to tell the Government how these proposals would affect your church. We want to ensure that reasonable and realistic measures can be encouraged without enforcing excessive levels of security. 

Key points for the consultation

  • The application of the Protect Duty should be based on the nature of events/​building use rather than capacity. Capacity should not be the only relevant factor.
  • The diversity of the church should be emphasised in terms of size and location and what appropriate risk assessments look like. Annex 2 outlines some potential guidelines for the Protect Duty but none of these models are sufficient or easily applicable for churches.
  • Putting inappropriate barriers to entry to a place of worship is a human rights issue and could have serious implications for freedom of religion and expression.