UK whistleblower law is 'toothless, overly complex' and must be replaced, lawmaker warns

24 September 2020 16:19


The current legal safeguard for whistleblowers in the UK is "toothless, overly complex and lacks the backing it needs to be effective," Mary Robinson, who chairs the All Parliamentary Group for Whistleblowing, said.

At a second reading of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill in the House of Commons, Parliament's lower chamber, Robinson urged lawmakers to vote to approve the legislation which would reform the current “inadequate” protections afforded to whistleblowers in the UK.

“The dissatisfaction with the present situation among a wide range of groups, individuals and members of Parliament across the political spectrum has grown into a clamor for reform,” she said.

Today marks a key step in the UK debate over whistleblowing legislation reform, with the government previously criticized by lawmakers for failing to overhaul outdated legislation. By contrast, the US typically offers whistleblowers multimillion-dollar reward payments.

The current UK law — the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 — no longer serves its purpose, Robinson said. “It was a trailblazing piece of legislation … [but] sadly as time has passed, PIDA has not lived up to its promise.”

“PIDA sadly is toothless, overly complex and lacks the backing it needs to be effective … For many potential whistleblowers, retaliation remains too great a threat for them to take the risk of speaking up,” Robinson said.

Under the current law, the only recourse for an individual who faces victimization or unfair dismissal for raising suspected wrongdoing is through an employment tribunal, which caps its awards at 85,500 pounds. Damages claims brought by whistleblowers, while rare, can be heard in the High Court.

The all-party parliamentary group has proposed a new public body, called the Independent Office for the Whistleblower, to handle tipoffs, administer criminal charges and regulate internal policies to support individuals from the moment they make a disclosure of suspected wrongdoing.

“Every government department would stand to benefit from reform. Whistleblowing has been, and is vital to Treasury’s efforts against financial fraud … to root out malpractice … and fraud in local authorities and the wider public sector,” she said.

The second reading of the bill is scheduled to resume on Feb 5 next year.

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