Government proposals to encourage whistleblowing, through the introduction of a new public interest test, will deter rather than encourage people from reporting major wrongdoing, according to one of the UK’s leading whistleblowing experts.
In evidence submitted today to the Whistleblowing Commission (set up by whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work) Professor David Lewis of Middlesex University argues that legislation will increase uncertainty amongst workers who have concerns about major wrongdoing such as safety or financial mismanagement.
A number of high profile health and safety cases and financial scandals have seen the Government act to encourage whistleblowing through its Employment Law Review and the new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. However, the legislative changes include only giving statutory protection to whistleblowers who disclose information which is in the ‘public interest’.
Middlesex University Professor of Employment Law David Lewis said: “A worker’s protection will depend on satisfying the new ‘public interest’ test for making a disclosure. However, they will only learn whether they get this protection after blowing the whistle and a tribunal agrees that the test was satisfied. It will be very difficult to advise a worker in these circumstances and without firm assurances they may choose to remain silent about serious wrongdoing. If this happens, the public interest test is clearly not in society’s interest.”
“This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that, as a result of other provisions, legal aid and advice is no longer available for employment matters and fees for taking a claim to an employment tribunal are being introduced later this year”.”
Professor Lewis, who is also the convenor of the International Whistleblowing Research Network, has submitted evidence to the Whistleblowing Commission.
His submission raises further issues including:
- All employers should be required by law to establish confidential reporting procedures that provide for the investigation of concerns and feedback to whistleblowers
- A public interest disclosure agency or national whistleblowing ombudsperson should be established to assist actual and potential whistleblowers and to educate the public about the need to raise concerns about wrongdoing.
- There is a strong argument that whistleblowers should be rewarded, financially or otherwise, for exposing serious wrongdoing.