The Public Interest Disclosure Bill

May 22, 1998

A bill to protect whistleblowers should soon be law, but few institutions are ready. Phil Baty reports

The Private Member's Bill gets its second reading in the House of Lords in June. It is expected to become law by January 1999.

It will protect workers from being dismissed or penalised for disclosing information they reasonably believe exposes crime, a miscarriage of justice, a danger to health, safety and the environment, a breach of legal obligations or an attempt to conceal such deeds.

Such exposures will be deemed "protected disclosure". Anyone dismissed or made redundant for this will be able to claim wrongful dismissal and to claim compensation or re-employment at an industrial tribunal which would determine if the whistleblower acted in good faith, with reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Under clause five of the bill, which will introduce a protected disclosure section to the Employment Rights Act of 1996, the whistleblower must act in good faith. To qualify for protection, the disclosures must be raised with appropriate bodies - the person responsible for the matter, a relevant regulatory body, or to a lawyer. Whistleblowers who bypass employers or regulatory bodies and go straight to the press may however be protected in "exceptionally serious matters".

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