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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
How the law helps whistleblowers
House of Commons
Parliament passed legislation to protect whistleblowers at work

Recognising that employees are the most likely people to first witness bad practice within an organisation, Parliament passed the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) in 1998.

It offers legal protection against any sort of reprisal or detriment to an employee who raises concerns about malpractice within the organisation, subject to certain conditions.

The act covers several sorts of concern ranging from health and safety dangers to practices within organisations which run contrary to the law.

It covers every professional in the NHS with a genuinely-held concern, who takes that to his or her manager.

Depending on the nature of the concern, it can also cover those who take complaints to the Department of Health, an external regulator or even to non-prescribed regulators such as the media.

Public Concern at Work is an independent authority on whistle-blowing. On their website you can find more detail about the act, examples of cases which they have successfully defended and details of their helpline.

The issue of good faith

Since PIDA came into force, suggestions have been made as to its possible amendment.

One of the most significant concerns the issue of good faith.

Disclosing malpractice within an organisation qualifies as a "protected disclosure" under the terms of the Act only if the person disclosing the information is doing so not out of self-interest, or the desire to hurt a colleague, but out of genuine concern about the matter being disclosed.

It is only in these circumstances that compensation would be awarded to a sacked employee, under the terms of the act.

Shipman Inquiry

In December 2004, Dame Janet Smith, in the Fifth Report of the Shipman Inquiry, spelt out a problem with the PIDA.

She said: "If...a member of the practice staff employed by Shipman had reported concerns about his conduct, she would not have enjoyed the protection of the PIDA if her main reason for making the report had been personal dislike of Shipman.

"This is despite overwhelming public interest in the disclosure that he might be murdering patients." (11.32, The Shipman Inquiry, Fifth Report).

Dame Janet concluded: "I think that there should be public discussion about whether the words 'in good faith' ought to appear in the PIDA.

"In my view they could properly be omitted...The public interest would be served, even in cases where the motives of the messenger might not have been entirely altruistic." (11.108, SI, Fifth report)

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