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Does the UK whistleblowers law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), really protect whistleblowers?

“PIDA is dangerous for whistleblowers because people think they have stronger protection under it than they actually do”.  – Lord Touhig, co-author of the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

On 9 May 2016 Blueprint for Free Speech, a not-for-profit research body focused on ‘freedom’ laws, published the results of over three years of research into the quality of the UK whistleblower protection law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act. This research was funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and it was at the Thomson Reuters offices in Docklands that the report was launched – Protecting Whistleblowers in the UK: A New Blueprint.

The report challenges the commonly accepted view that the UK whistleblower law is world class. In a comparison against 26 international whistleblowing benchmarks it gives a score of 37% to PIDA.

Blueprint for Free Speech also used the event to deliver a series of awards to individuals both in the UK and internationally who have contributed to the cause of whistleblowing.

I was honoured and privileged to receive an award for ‘services to whistleblowing’. This related to my own experiences as a whistleblower in the Metropolitan Police and my pursuit for justice. Despite the UK being considered by many abroad as having strong whistleblower protection laws, it is only when an individual needs to turn to these laws for protection that the inadequacies become apparent. The Blueprint report succinctly identifies these weaknesses and offers suggestions for improvement.

The following day, 10 May, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Economic and Social Research Council published research on what a good whistleblowing programme looks like – Effective Speak-up Arrangements for Whistleblowers.

At the launch I was offered the opportunity to provide my own personal take on this report for an ACCA webcast. I made the point that this particular academic research supported intuitive and anecdotal evidence that a good whistleblowing programme requires two key elements:

  • the development of a culture of confidence to report concerns; and
  • the development of appropriate receipt and response mechanisms.

These two elements address the two most common reasons that wrongdoing is not reported, i.e. the fear of victimisation and the belief that nothing will be done about the concern.

The Blueprint and ACCA reports complement each other and add value to the growing body of research and guidance that exists on how to design, build and manage an effective, and value-adding, whistleblower programme.