Martyn’s Law: the context and challenges of implementing the mandatory Protect Duty

By Alchemmy’s Paul Kennedy

Amidst the spike in terrorist attack fatalities in the UK during 2017 and 2018, claiming over 35 lives, the threat of Islamic extremism loomed larger than ever. From the orchestrated tragedy of the Manchester arena bombing to the alarming shift towards lone-actor attacks and Self-Initiated Terrorism (S-IT), the landscape of terrorism has evolved rapidly. This article delves into the intricate web of challenges surrounding the latest counter-terrorism legislation: the draft Protect Duty, known as Martyn’s Law. While not duplicating extensive online guidance, our focus is on nuanced aspects and challenges faced by the affected community and the Counter Terrorism (CT) network.

As the UK contends with the aftermath of 2018, characterised by a decline in Islamic extremist-related incidents and a rise in Extreme Right-Wing Terrorism (ERWT) and other forms of extremism, the dynamics of national security are in flux. The introduction of Martyn’s Law in 2023, currently under Ministerial review, aims to make it mandatory for certain businesses to prepare their premises against potential terrorist threats. Following Manchester Arena Inquiry reports, this shift from voluntary to mandatory measures underscores the pressing need for heightened vigilance.

The upcoming 2024 elections, coupled with global geopolitical uncertainties, have returned security and counter terrorism into the forefront of public consciousness. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe, the world grapples with instability, raising concerns about the potential impact on terrorism. Amidst this evolving landscape, the Protect Duty emerges as a cornerstone, holding public-facing organisations accountable for safeguarding the public and preparing for the unpredictable nature of terrorist threats.

We will explore the intricacies of Martyn’s Law, the challenges in its implementation, and the ever-shifting contours of terrorism in the UK, providing a comprehensive perspective on the present and future of counter-terrorism efforts.


The draft Martyn’s Law Bill was released in May 2023 and is currently under legislative scrutiny by relevant Government committees. It is designed to further protect public premises from terror attacks and will standardise the mandatory and proportionate steps that Publicly Accessible Locations (PAL)s must take to reduce the likelihood of a terrorist attack occurring on their premises, as well as mitigate the associated harm if an attack were to occur.

The Bill will require venues to fulfil certain duties, according to their capacity, to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and reduce harm. Venues with a capacity of 100-799 people will form the standard tier, in which they will be required to notify the authority as a standard tier public premise (authority not yet determined) and establish procedures for: evacuation; lockdown; communication; and implied training for staff to be able to carry out the aforementioned procedures. Those with a capacity of 800 or above will be placed in the enhanced tier, which will necessitate additional measures that include: designating a competent senior Officer to oversee compliance; completing an enhanced terrorism risk assessment; and the maintenance of a dedicated security plan that is rehearsed. It is important to note that these requirements are expected, and the specifics are still in consultation, following the governments release of the draft Bill.

The CT community are conscious of the significant increase in public responsibility under the Bill and are therefore carefully considering how proportional and realistic the tiered stages of the Protect Duty are. Initially, 66% of respondents to the proposal disagreed with the cost and benefit estimates that the Bill’s consultation predicted. This was largely due to the increase in cost to businesses in insurance, the increased burden on Policing to enforce and support, and the closing of small businesses that could not commercially absorb the responsibility. This initial feedback encouraged the government to consider a tiered approach, as outlined above. Consultation will also ensure the Bill is complimentary of wider government CT strategies, such as CONTEST (Counter-Terrorism Strategy), which is the UK’s capstone CT policy, written by the Home Office.

CONTEST has four main strands: Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare, with Martyn’s law sitting under Protect and Prepare. The Protect strand covers “the physical risk to people as they go about their lives” and “the vulnerability of public venues, transport, and our Critical National Infrastructure”. Currently, Counter Terrorism Security Advisers (CTSA) and the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA, part of MI5), formerly the Centre for Protection of National infrastructure (CPNI,) provide advice to the public and are overseen by the National Counter Terrorism and Security Office (NaCTSO). The Prepare strand’s intent is to minimise the impact of an attack, reduce the likelihood of further attacks, and continuously adapt and improve measures. CONTEST states that civil society will be equipped with the tools to react safely in the earliest stages after an attack before the emergency services arrive.


Change in responsibilities:

Large event organisers and public spaces will experience significant change. Although the Bill refers to PALs, it is not entirely clear yet where responsibility ends and organisations who have never considered CT risk will be required under legislation to act. Large event organisations particularly will need to incorporate elements of Martyn’s Law requirements into the daily operating model as well as their emergency operating procedures. These include but are not limited to establishing a competent person with clear CT related responsibilities, conducting (and reviewing) CT incident rehearsals, maintaining and enforcing a comprehensive CT risk assessment, organising relevant training, and regularly engaging with NaCTSO’s Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) products.[1] These tasks are only a representative example of the upskilling required by PALs and will depend on the specific threat the organisation faces, determined by the demographics of their event goers, the nature of the events, the design of their premises and more.

Effective implementation:

Like any new legislation or Programme, one of the biggest challenges facing Martyn’s Law is its effective implementation. Firstly, ensuring it is done in a way that is complimentary of wider CT strategies; and secondly ensuring effective strategic engagement with, and guidance to, the extensive CT stakeholders. NaCTSO, who are routinely responsible for implementing the Protect and Prepare strands of CONTEST, are tasked with overseeing the Bill’s implementation. Their communication and engagement strategy will need to: reach the extensive network of PALs that are affected; use scaled approaches based on tiers; and implement monitoring and evaluation processes to measure engagement and compliance with the Bill. Whilst theoretically the size of the public community that NaCTSO are attempting to engage with their products has not changed, the level of meaningful engagement to ensure compliance with the Bill has significantly increased. Let alone any capability gaps NaCTSO may have, the sheer scale of this task will be challenging for a small organisation of 60 permanent staff and approximately 200 de-centralised CTSAs.

NaCTSO will need to work with and rely on the support of national and regional government departments and agencies who have a stake in CT. This will inevitably highlight competing priorities across the intelligence and security community, as well as routine operational barriers such as policy and system interoperability. The priority must be supporting PALs, who will be most concerned with compliance and will be subject to the biggest change in their day-to-day procedures. NaCTSO will need to encourage a culture of proactiveness, preparedness and awareness of the threats, and adopt a deliberate communication and engagement strategy that strives for meaningful engagement with their suite of (ACT) products. Furthermore, a process and procedure to measure engagement with Martyn’s Law and effectiveness of the implementation at key milestones will be required to demonstrate the Bill’s “value for money.”

Managing risk from a broad range of threats:

The second challenge concerns the breadth of threats that organisations’ risk assessments and CT plans will need to consider and mitigate. The threat that the UK faces from terrorism is continuously evolving. One may think of terrorism in the UK recently as traditionally stemming from Islamist threat, however multiple strategic developments have meant the nature of threats has changed. The rise in polarising and populist politics in the West has seen an increase in both LASIT and ERWT, often hijacked by agents from state actors. NaCTSO’s ACT products have anticipated the rollout of the Protect Bill and they, for example, have provided some draft CT risk assessments for several types of PALs. However, the risk assessments and other products must be comprehensive and substantial enough to reflect the broad range of terrorist threat and resultant mitigation measures, particularly to a community not familiar with the language and thematic issue.

Strategic communication:

Finally, there will be a strategic communication challenge as to how the Bill is framed. CT policies and harm reduction laws are often controversial from the public’s perspective. Whilst the effectiveness of other laws, such as immigration are easier to assess and quantify, it is difficult to accurately assess the effect of CT policy on stopping or reducing the severity of attacks. This is due to the myriad motivational factors behind an attack, as well as the lag time between the Bill improving resilience to the point of would-be attackers being discouraged.

How can Alchemmy help.


Alchemmy are a people-focussed organisation with industry expertise across CT-Policing, Security and Law Enforcement. We have previously supported government organisations in designing communication and engagement strategies for complex change programmes, across large, distributed stakeholder networks. The implementation of complex new legislation, which involves multiple government stakeholders and public beneficiaries will have an impact on the organisational strategy of NaCTSO. Conducting an organisational strategy review or developing a theory of change in anticipation of the roll out of Martyn’s law will ensure that the legislation’s outcomes are clearly identified; the outcomes are supportive of wider government strategies (such as CONTEST); and the relevant stakeholders understand their contribution. To support this strategy a formal Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) plan should be considered to encourage accountability, transparency (of results) and the collection of data to conduct periodical evaluations on the progress of Martyn’s law. One example, being the monitoring of levels of engagement (by the public) with NaCTSO’s ACT products. Our cross-government experience, in secure environments put Alchemmy in a suitable and credible position to support both the strategic and operational rollout of Martyn’s Law, on behalf of the government. Harnessing this experience, we can help government organisations manage the complex change associated with the rollout of Martyn’s Law, across a diverse set of stakeholders.


Alchemmy can also support PALs and organisations, who have not previously engaged with the government’s CT advice (such as ACT products) and will therefore experience the most significant organisational change. Organisations that fall into the enhanced tier will have to make significant changes to their emergency and daily operating models, which include formalising new responsibilities of employees, incorporating training into the operating model and designing new emergency operating procedures that are periodically rehearsed. As well as engaging with NaCTSO’s public facing support, large event organisations will need to recruit or organically develop a cadre of risk experts, who are familiar with the thematic area of CT. To prepare for this, organisations will need to consider a training needs analysis and review of anticipated changes so that they can identify the areas that they need inorganic support. Alchemmy has individuals with deep experience conducting risk assessments related to CT, conducting training needs analysis, and organising emergency procedures in similar contexts. We therefore have the sector-based knowledge as well as the necessary change credentials to work with organisations to diagnose, design and deliver the mandatory change associated with Martyn’s law that ensures compliance and a safer operating environment.


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Written by

Sam Smitherman

Published on

47nd April 2024


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