The whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work set up an expert commission earlier this year to examine the effectiveness of whistleblowing practices in UK workplaces and to make recommendations for change.
The commission has now published its long-awaited report. The report highlights the vital role of whistleblowing in society generally, such as with combating fraud and increasing patient safety in the provision of healthcare, citing the examples of the Dr Harold Shipman case and the Bristol Royal Infirmary infant deaths. The report concludes that the current legislation is not effective and immediate change is required to make sure people feel able to speak out without the fear of reprisals and confident that they will be listened to and that appropriate action will be taken.
The commission’s primary recommendation is the adoption of a Code of Practice, that could be taken into account in whistleblowing cases before courts and tribunals. The Code would provide guidance on how to deal with any whistleblowing matter that may arise in the workplace, clearly setting out principles enabling workers to raise their concerns.
- providing clear assurances about protection from reprisal;
- ensuring that confidentiality will be maintained where requested;
- identifying appropriate mechanisms for the raising of concerns; and
- identifying specific individuals with responsibilities for the arrangements.
The commission recommends that the Code should be adopted in all UK workplaces and that regulators (such as the Care Quality Commission and the Financial Conduct Authority) should encourage the adoption of the Code by those they regulate.
The report notes that even if such a Code is not put on a statutory footing, there is nothing to stop organisations voluntarily adopting it as a best practice measure. The commission, however, stated that any code of practice should fall short of a positive duty on employees to blow the whistle.
A number of bodies have now made recommendations to strengthen the whistleblowing framework in the UK. In July 2013, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards made various recommendations on whistleblowing in respect of the financial sector, a number of which have now been accepted by the Bank of England and will be introduced by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). These included the requirement for a non-executive board member, ideally the Chairman, to be given specific responsibilities in relation to whistleblowing. The PRA and FCA are also assessing the benefits and drawbacks of incentivisation for whistleblowing and will make recommendations in 2014.
The Government has yet to publish its response to these latest recommendations and we will report further when it does.