The purpose of the Bill is to establish the statutory Office of the Whistleblower to protect whlstleblowers and whistleblowing. It defines whistleblowing in law and in the form of the Office creates a whistleblowing champion. It sets mandatory minimum standards for policies, procedures and the investigation of concerns known as “protected disclosures”, bringing the UK into line with the best international practice.
The Bill protects every citizen who “speaks out” not just workers and provides protection against all forms of retaliation not just employment retaliation. It puts in place procedures to speed up access to justice against retaliation. For these reasons, the Bill repeals and replaces the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998.
The Bill establishes meaningful but proportionate penalties for organisations that discriminate or retaliate against whistleblowers. It ends confidentiality agreements (often known as Non-Disclosure Agreements or NDAs) that silence whistleblowers.
We need these changes because citizens who blow the whistle about criminal activity, abusive and exploitative behaviour, ethical and procedural failures – indeed the full range of behaviours that put the public at risk of harm – are essential to stop wrongdoing early and deter bad behaviour. For example 40% of fraud is exposed through whistleblowing. Indeed the current UnderSecretary for BEIS Kevin Holingrake recently opined in the Commons that 100% of economic crime detection could be attributed to whistleblowing. But if whistleblowers are to speak out they need protection from retaliation and the assurance that their report will be investigated. The present law falls far from achieving those two tests.
Official whistleblowing channels in the UK are sometimes excellent but often are confusing and more like a customer complaints line designed to persuade the caller to go away rather than to alert investigators to wrongdoing. Dame Elizabeth Gloster in a recent report on the London Capital and Finance scandal was scathing about the FCA’s complaints/whistleblowing schemes.
Good organisations encourage and protect whistleblowing but many others turn on the whistleblower. Despite laws providing confidential channels for workers who whistleblow, many who speak out are easily identified. Employees who become victims of retaliation can turn to employment tribunals but cases drag on for years and are exceedingly expensive while careers are ruined. Non-employees like contractors or customers have not even this level of protection.
In the US where whistleblowing is respected and laws are supportive, the financial penalties from catching and prosecuting criminal behaviour exposed by whistleblowing not only supports the cost of all administration and investigation of whistleblowing but returns large surpluses to the US Treasury.
The Government has promised a review of whistleblowing legislation and there is a growing cross-party momentum for action backed strongly by the public. My Bill, drafted by a leading civic group (WhistleblowersUK) and lawyers who work with whistleblowing cases is an updated version of one proposed by the APPG on Whistleblowing. It is intended to give the Government a clear opportunity to act.