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The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998: Understanding Whistleblowing in the UK

Background and Purpose

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was enacted to shield individuals who report suspected misconduct or illegal activities within an organisation. This act of reporting is termed as making a disclosure in the public interest or more colloquially, whistleblowing.

Notable Whistleblowing Incidents

  • Hillsborough tragedy
  • Mid Staffordshire NHS inquiry
  • Issues surrounding Ealing Hospital and the Care Quality Commission
  • Allegations in the financial sector, including Deutsche Bank and gas pricing disputes

Criteria for Making a Disclosure

To be protected by the legislation, a worker must raise concerns under specific circumstances, such as:

  • A forthcoming or ongoing criminal offence.
  • Probable legal obligations breaches by the organisation.
  • Possible miscarriages of justice.
  • Imminent or current threats to someone's health and safety.
  • Potential environmental harm.
  • A suspected cover-up of any wrongdoing.

Interestingly, disclosures about actions abroad violating foreign laws can be protected in the UK, if reported in good faith.

Good Faith and Disclosure

A whistleblower is expected to act in good faith, genuinely believing in the accuracy of the information shared, and reporting to the right authority. However, disclosures made while committing an offence or sharing information protected by legal professional privilege might not receive protection.

Recent Updates to the Legislation

As of 25th June 2013, the rules state:

  • The whistleblower must genuinely believe that the disclosure serves the public interest.
  • The Act now also safeguards certain NHS workers, along with specific doctors and dentists.

Protection against Reprisals

An employer cannot dismiss an employee merely for whistleblowing, as long as it adheres to the guidelines. If terminated on such grounds, an employee can contest it as unfair dismissal. Though non-employee workers cannot claim unfair dismissal, the Act still offers them protection against detrimental treatment.