On the 27 March 2023 the UK Government launched a review of the country's whistleblowing framework. The review, which is expected to complete in autumn 2023, will take evidence from whistleblowers, charities, employers and regulators, considering topics such as who is covered by whistleblower protections, the wider benefits of the whistleblowing framework, and what constitutes best practice for employers when responding to whistleblowing allegations.Protection for whistleblowers has been enshrined in UK law since 1998 through the Public Interest Disclosure Act ("PIDA"). When first introduced, this afforded greater protection than most of the domestic legislation across Europe. However, the EU has since passed the Whistleblower Protection Directive (the "EU Directive"), which Member States were required to transpose into national law by December 2021 (although a handful of jurisdiction are still putting their domestic legislation in place). The EU Directive imposes much more stringent obligations on organisations than PIDA, particularly around the processes for responding to whistleblowing disclosures and protecting whistleblowers’ anonymity.
Following Brexit, the UK is no longer obliged to implement the Directive. However, the Government will be keen not to fall behind (the US has also expanded its available protections) and so we may see some aspects of the Directive not currently reflected in PIDA, introduced into UK whistleblowing law, such as:
- widening the scope of individuals who are afforded protection, such as to include self-employed contractors, volunteers and non-executive directors;
- requiring employers with 50 or more employees to set up internal channels and feedback procedures;
- introducing standards for how regulators maintain confidentiality, provide feedback and follow-up on any disclosures;
- implementing provisions to protect whistleblowers from potential liability, such as breach of confidence, defamation and data protection; and
- providing legal aid for whistleblowers seeking to bring employment-related claims.
Campaign groups are also hoping that the Government’s review will go further than the EU Directive and herald the introduction of the Office of the Whistleblower, as proposed in several recent Private Members Bills.
We have advised many EU and multinational companies on what matters to take into consideration as a result of the EU Directive and best practice generally. For more information on the impact of possible legislative changes on your organisation, please do speak to one of the team.
With thanks to Solicitor Mark Linnane, co-author of this article.
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