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Civil Contingencies Act

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Civil Contingencies Act

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004[1]
Long title An Act to make provision about civil contingencies.
Chapter 2004 c 36
Introduced by Douglas Alexander
Territorial extent England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but where this Act amends or repeals an enactment or a provision of an enactment, the amendment or repeal has the same extent as the enactment or provision.[2]
Royal Assent 18 November 2004[3]
Commencement 10 December 2004Revised text of statute as amended

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (c 36) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that establishes a coherent framework for emergency planning and response ranging from local to national level. It also replaces former Civil Defence and Emergency Powers legislation of the 20th century.

Background to the Act

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 repeals the Civil Defence Act 1948 and the Civil Defence Act (Northern Ireland) 1950. Part 1 of the Act establishes a new definition for “emergency”, which is broadly defined. The definition includes war or attack by a foreign power, which were defined as emergency under previous legislation, as well as terrorism which poses a threat of serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom and events which threaten serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom or to the environment of a place in the United Kingdom. Previous legislation, which was enacted during or after the second world war, provided for civil protection solely in terms of "civil defence", which was defined as "measures, other than actual combat, for affording defence against a hostile attack by a foreign power". The Act also broadens the number of local bodies which have duties in the event of an emergency, previous legislation only related to local authorities, police authorities and certain fire authorities.[5] Neither strand had seen any significant amendments in a number of years and were not deemed able to cope in the event of domestic threats to services such as the fuel protests of 2000 or natural threats like the mass flooding in 2000 and the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001.[6]

In the wake of these three events, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, announced a formal review into emergency planning arrangements. The review included a public consultation exercise, which generally supported the Government's conclusion that existing legislation was no longer adequate and that new legislation was required. A draft Bill was scrutinised in detail by the Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill,[7] which was very influential in shaping the legislation but several proposals of which (especially for a new agency) were rejected.

The Act guides upon the creation of a Local Resilience Forum to consider such matters within an existing police force boundary and requires responders to undertake risk assessments, maintain them in a Community Risk Register and to publish this register. Risks in this context are those that could result in a major emergency. This Community Risk Register is the first step in the emergency planning process; it ensures that the plans that are developed are proportionate to the risk.

A draft Bill was scrutinised in detail by the Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill.[8] On the 18 November 2004 the bill received Royal Assent, becoming the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.[9]

The Act

The Act is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 defines the obligations of certain organisations to prepare for various types of emergencies.
  • Part 2 provides additional powers for the government to use in the event of a large scale emergency.
  • Part 3 provides supplementary legislation in support of the first two parts.

Part 1: Local Arrangements for Civil Protection

Part 1 of the Act places a legal obligation upon emergency services and local authorities (defined as "Category 1 responders" under the Act) to assess the risk of, plan, and exercise for emergencies, as well as undertaking Business continuity Management. Cat. 1 Responders are also responsible for warning and informing the public in relation to emergencies. Finally, local authorities are required to provide business continuity advice to local businesses. It also places legal obligations for increased co-operation and information sharing between different emergency services and also to non-emergency services that might have a role in an emergency such as electric companies (non-emergency services are defined as “Category 2 responders” under the Act).

Part 2: Emergency Powers

The second part of the Act provides that temporary emergency regulations are normally made by the Queen through Order in Council or by a Minister of the Crown if arranging for an Order in Council would not be possible without serious delay. Such regulations are limited in duration to 21 days, unless Parliament votes to extend this period before it expires. The only Act of Parliament which may not be amended by emergency regulations is the Human Rights Act 1998. There was an attempt by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers to add a number of other key constitutional laws to the exemption list during the Bill stage, but this was unsuccessful. They tried to protect these laws from emergency regulation:

The introduction of the Act comes with increased funding for emergency planning in the United Kingdom to help organisations comply with the Act and brings emergency planning funding more on par with European levels.

Category 1 & 2 responders

Category 1 and Category 2 responders are organisations defined in the Act as having responsibilities for carrying out the legislation.

Each responder has an emergency planning officer (sometimes called a civil protection officer, civil contingencies officer, resilience officer, or risk manager) who is usually responsible for ensuring their organisation is in compliance with the Act and sharing information with other responders. The usual way of checking compliance is by regularly testing plans by reviews or exercises.

Category 1 responders

Category 1 responders are known as core responders - they include the usual "blue-light" emergency services as well as others:

Category 2 responders

Category 2 responders are key co-operating responders that act in support of the Category 1 responders. Category 2 responders are mostly utility companies and transport organisations:

  • Electricity distributors and transmitters
  • Gas distributors
  • Water and sewerage undertakers
  • Telephone service providers (fixed and mobile)

Section 34 - Commencement

The following orders have been made under sections 34(1) and (3):

  • The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2004 (S.I. 2004/3281 (C. 148))
  • The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/772 (C. 33))
  • The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Commencement No. 3) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2040 (C. 89))

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Commencement) (Scotland) Order 2005 (S.S.I. 2005/493 (C. 26)) was made under sections 34(2) and (3).


According to the leading commentary on the Act, by Clive Walker and Jim Broderick:[10]

The Government’s handling of risks and emergencies in recent years has failed to inspire public confidence. In a range of crises, from the Foot and Mouth outbreak through to the grounds for war in Iraq, official predictions or capabilities have been found wanting. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 tenders reassurance by the promise of systemic planning and activity in civil resilience, though defence lies beyond its scope. The wide-ranging powers in the Act have the capability of delivering on the promise. But, as shall be revealed in this book, efforts will be hampered because the legislation is hesitant and uneven.


External links

  • UK Cabinet Office - Emergency response and recovery: the official site for all issues and current news to do with the Civil Contingencies Act
  • Lords Hansard Text for 16 November 2004

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