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Whistleblowing legal precedents

Whistleblowing legal precedents

Whistleblowing law is complex, and it can be difficult  to understand how it might be applied to the facts of your situation. However, you can use legal precedents to help you. 

A precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case. Judges rely on precedents when deciding subsequent cases on similar issues or facts. They are therefore important to understand because they can be used to build legal arguments and understand the law. 

Note that not all courts establish precedents that Employment Tribunals have to follow, and the rules of precedent may vary depending on where you are.  

Judgments of the Supreme Court are binding on all courts in the UK. 

In England and Wales, judgments of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal are binding on Employment Tribunals.  

In Scotland, judgments of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Session are binding on Employment Tribunals. In Northern Ireland, judgments of the Court of Appeal are binding on the Industrial Tribunals 

Below is a list of some of the key precedents that can help you when raising concerns or going to the Tribunal. 

Who is a whistleblower?

Clyde & Co LLP and another v Bates van Winkelhof (Protect (then Public Concern at Work) Intervening) [2014] UKSC 32

The protections of whistleblowing law typically only apply to workers and employees. This leaves some groups unprotected. This case established that a member of a Limited Liability Partnership can qualify for protection under whistleblowing law.  

Ms Bates van Winkelhof was a partner in a solicitor’s firm, who reported incidents of bribery to the firm’s money laundering reporting officer. As a result, she was expelled as a partner, and sued the LLP in the Employment Tribunal for whistleblowing victimisation. 

The Supreme Court was asked to decide the question of whether a member of an LLP can be a ‘worker’ for the purposes of whistleblowing law. It held that Ms Bates van Winkelhof was a worker, and was entitled to whistleblowing protections. In coming to this conclusion, the court noted that she was an integral part of the firm’s business and could not market her services elsewhere.  

Note that this only applies to whistleblowing law, which has a wider definition of ‘worker’ than other employment law rights. You should not assume that other employment law rights apply to you.  

Also be aware that as a worker you can only bring a detriment claim (under section 43B of the  Employment Rights Act 1996), not a dismissal claim (under section 103A), as these claims are only available to employees, which is a different category in employment law. 

Gilham v Ministry of Justice (Protect intervening) [2019] UKSC 44

This case established that a circuit judge could qualify for protection under whistleblowing law. This is significant because judges are what the law calls ‘officer-holders’, who are not typically treated as being subject to employment law in the same way as employees or workers. 

Ms Gilham raised concerns with court administrators that funding cuts were having a detrimental effect on the functioning of the courts. After being bullied and undermined, she brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal, alleging she had been victimised for whistleblowing. 

The Supreme Court was asked to decide the question of whether a judge can be a ‘worker’ for the purposes of whistleblowing law. The court held that, though she was not technically a worker, her role as district judge was essentially analogous to one, and so she should be protected. To not give her protections would be a breach of her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights read in conjunction with Article 14 (the right to enjoy the Convention rights without discrimination because of some “other status”). 

This ruling has the potential in future to broaden the scope of whistleblowing law to other unprotected groups, such as trustees using human rights arguments. However, if and when the law will expand in this way is uncertain.  

There has already been one successful claim in the employment Tribunal (The Reverend D Green v The Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance: 2409635/2022), where a member of the clergy (an office-holder) was successfully held to be a ‘worker’ by using  Gilham-style arguments. 

On the other hand, in Sullivan v Isle of Wight Council [2024] EAT 3 the Employment Appeals Tribunal decided that a job applicant was not a worker for the purposes of whistleblowing, rejecting a Gilham-style argument. 

Has a protected disclosure been made?

The protections of whistleblowing law apply to workers who make ‘protected disclosures’, which is the legal term for whistleblowing. If your case goes to tribunal, you will need to convince the judge that you made protected disclosures. 

Chesterton Global Ltd & Anor v Nurmohamed & Anor (Protect (then Public Concern at Work) intervening [2017] EWCA Civ 979

In order for a concern to be protected by whistleblowing law it must, in the reasonable belief of the whistleblower, be made in the Public Interest. This is usually straightforward. A ‘public interest’ concern is usually one that affects other people, rather than a private concern affecting only you.  

However, there will be more complex cases, when a person is both a victim of wrongdoing and a witness to it. In such cases, it will be for the judge to decide whether the concern was ‘in the public interest’. 

In the Chesterton case, the claimant, Mr Nurmohamed, was an estate agent who raised concerns that accounts had been deliberately manipulated to reduce the commission paid to staff. Mr Nurmohamed was directly affected by the wrongdoing, and the court was asked to decide whether the disclosure was in the public interest or not. It decided that even though the claimant was affected, the disclosure was still made in the public interest, and qualified for protection. 

The judgment sets out the factors that a Judge will consider when deciding whether  a concern engaged the public interest, or if it is only a private concern. Individuals who are unsure about the Public Interest element of their concern can use these factors to guide them. 

The Chesterton Factors: 

  • The number of people that were affected by the wrongdoing raised. 

    It is more likely that the concern will be in the public interest  if more people have been affected by the wrongdoing. 

    In Chesterton, around 100 other managers were affected in the same way as Mr Nurmohammed.

  • The nature of the alleged wrongdoing. 

    A disclosure of a wrongdoing that directly affects an important interest is more likely to be in the public interest than a disclosure of a more trivial wrongdoing affecting the same number of people. For example, a concern about the health and safety of passengers on a bus due to the bus’s brakes not being maintained, is more likely to be in the public interest than a concern about passengers  missing their  stop due to the stop buttons  not being maintained.  

    In this case, it was relevant that the manipulation by Chesterton had been deliberate.  

  • The nature of the harm caused and the extent of its impact. 

    A disclosure about a deliberate wrongdoing is more likely to be in the public interest than a disclosure of unintentional wrongdoing. 

    In this particular case, it was relevant that the wrongdoing involved large sums of money (mis-statement of the accounts by £2m-£3m). 

  • The identity of the alleged wrongdoer  

    Wrongdoing perpetrated by a larger or more prominent company is more likely to engage the public interest than a smaller company.
    In this case, the wrongdoing was by Chesterton, a household name in the UK.  

    Similarly, a wrongdoing perpetrated by a more important wrongdoer (in terms of seniority within a company) is more likely to engage the public interest than junior members of staff.  

Kilraine v London Borough of Wandsworth [2018] EWCA Civ 1436

The protections of whistleblowing law apply to workers who make ‘protected disclosures’, which is the legal term for whistleblowing. If your case goes to tribunal, you will need to convince the judge that you made protected disclosures. 

This case emphasised that, to be legally protected, a disclosure should contain sufficient and specific information. Whistleblowing law will not protect pure allegations – you must provide some facts that illustrate the wrongdoing. 

Ms Kilraine argued that she had been dismissed after whistleblowing about bullying and harassment in the workplace. The Court of Appeal found that an email stating “there have been numerous incidents of inappropriate behaviour towards me” did not contain enough specific factual information to be considered as legally protected whistleblowing disclosure. 

When raising concerns, disclosures must contains specific facts, not just an allegation of wrongdoing. For example: “there is a leak of dangerous chemicals into the external drain” is specific, whereas “this organisation is breaching health and safety rules” is not. 

Though you do not need to prove the wrongdoing in order to be protected, you should provide enough information that the person receiving the concern can understand and act on it. 

Mrs R Kealy v Westfield Community Development Association [2023] EAT 96

The protections of whistleblowing law apply to workers who make ‘protected disclosures’, which is the legal term for whistleblowing. If your case goes to tribunal, you will need to convince the judge that you made protected disclosures. 

This case lays out the steps the series of questions that a judge should ask when deciding whether there has been a protected disclosure: 

  1. Has there been a disclosure of information? (see Kilraine above) 
  2. Did the worker believe that the disclosure was in the public interest? (see Chesterton test) 
  3. Was that reasonably held? 
  4. Did the worker believe that the disclosure tended to show one or more of the six categories of wrongdoing? 
  5. Was that belief reasonably held? 
  6. Was the disclosure protected? For this question, different tests apply depending on who the disclosure was made to. See our pages on internal and external disclosures for more information. 

The judge should go through these questions one by one. This can be a helpful guide for planning your arguments, as well as thinking about what kind of evidence you can produce to prove each point. 

‘Reasonably held’ means that you do not have to be right in the end, but you should have good reasons for holding the belief. Try to explain, with evidence, how you came to believe what you did. 

Once you have established that you made protected disclosures, the Tribunal will then turn to the question of causation: were the protected disclosures the reason for the dismissal or detriment? (see below) 

Babula v Waltham Forest College [2007] EWCA Civ 174

To be protected under whistleblowing law, you must have a reasonable belief in the wrongdoing you are reporting. This does not mean that you have to be correct, as long as you have good reasons to believe that the information you raise tends to show one of the six types of wrongdoing set out in whistleblowing law. 

The case of Babula shows that, if your belief was reasonable, you may still be protected even if it turns out you are wrong. 

Mr Babula was a college lecturer who raised concerns about a predecessor who he believed was breaking the law by inciting religious hatred among the students. However, it turned out that ‘inciting religious hatred’ was not an offence at the time, so no crime had in fact occurred. The Court of Appeal ultimately held that this did not prevent him from being protected. The disclosures could still be legally protected, as Mr Babula had reasonably believed there might be illegal behaviour, even if he turned out to be wrong. 

If you reasonably believe that the disclosure you make tends to show a wrongdoing, whether you are right or wrong does not necessarily affect whether your disclosure is protected legally. What matters is that your belief was reasonable when you raised the concern. 


The protections of whistleblowing law apply to workers who make ‘protected disclosures’, which is the legal term for whistleblowing. If your case goes to tribunal, you will need to convince the judge that you made protected disclosures. 

Shamoon v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary [2003]

It is unlawful for your employer to victimise you for raising whistleblowing concerns. The legal term for this mistreatment is ‘detriment’, but this is not defined in the law itself. Therefore, judges have established the meaning of detriment through case law, borrowing a definition from discrimination law. 

A ‘detriment’ means negative treatment by your employer. This can cover a wide range of things, but there are limits. It must be treatment that other people would reasonably consider to be negative and will not extend to an unjustified sense of grievance. 

It will also not extend to reasonable steps taken by your employer to deal with a dysfunctional workplace situation, such as redeploying a worker after a total breakdown in relations (NHS Manchester v Fecitt & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 1190) 

This can include 

NHS Manchester v Fecitt & Ors (Protect (then Public Concern at Work) intervening [2011] EWCA Civ 1190

In whistleblowing claims, the hardest part is often causation: proving the connection between your whistleblowing disclosures and the treatment you experienced. This case explains how a judge will determine whether whistleblowing was the reason behind your detrimental treatment. 

In dismissal cases, the causation test is very high: whistleblowing must be the ‘sole or principal reason’ for the dismissal. In contrast, the test in detriment cases is whether the making of protected disclosures ‘materially influenced’ the employer’s negative treatment of the whistleblower. This means that the fact that you blew the whistle needs to have had some influence on the decision to mistreat you, but does not need to be the main or only reason. 

However, the case also shows that your employer taking reasonable steps to address a dysfunctional workplace will not necessarily be considered whistleblower victimisation. 

In Fecitt, the claimants were three nurses in a walk-in centre who raised concerns about a colleague’s qualifications. This led to a deterioration in relations among staff, with some employees supporting the claimants and others supporting the colleague they blew the whistle about. Management attempted to encourage the employees at the Walk-In Centre to work together, but without success.  Eventually, the employer considered that the only feasible method of resolving the breakdown in the working relationships in the Walk-In Centre was to separate and send some of the staff to work in a different location. The whistleblowers were therefore redeployed. They brought a claim alleging that their redeployment was negative treatment and whistleblowing victimisation.  

The Court of Appeal held that a Tribunal should ask whether the whistleblowing disclosure had a ‘material influence’ on the way the whistleblower was treated. The judge decided that, in this case, the need to deal with a dysfunctional workplace was a proper justification for the decision to redeploy the whistleblowers. The reasons given by NHS Manchester for doing what it did were genuine, and the fact that the Claimants had made protected disclosures had no influence on its decisions. 

The Court of Appeal also found that because there is no provision making it unlawful for employees to victimise whistleblowers, then since the employees who had allegedly victimised the Claimants could not themselves be personally liable under the whistleblowing legislation, NHS Manchester could not be vicariously liable for their conduct. 

Protect (then called Public Concern at Work), called for a Government review of the legislation to ensure that whistleblowers are protected in situations such as those which arose in this case. The law was indeed changed 2013, allowing employers to be held liable for the retaliatory acts of co-workers. 

Timis & Anor v Osipov & Anor (Protect intervening) [2018] EWCA Civ 2321

This case established that a worker can bring a detriment claim against individuals for the decision to dismiss them. This can be particularly helpful where a claim can’t be brought against the employer, for example because they are insolvent. 

Before Osipov, it was understood that employees can bring automatic unfair dismissal claims against their employers, and  both workers and employees can bring detriment (victimisation) claims against individual co-workers and their employer. However, dismissal could not be considered a detriment, and so an employee could not sue an individual directly for their dismissal. 

Mr Osipov was the CEO of an oil and gas company, who was dismissed by the board after raising concerns about the legality of the firm’s operations. He won a claim for automatic unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing, but the company had gone insolvent so could not pay compensation. To get around this, he also sued two directors who he alleged had made the decision to dismiss him. 

The Court of Appeal held that, in addition to an automatic unfair dismissal claim brought against the company, he could also bring a detriment claim against the two individual directors for the decision to dismiss him.  

Therefore, Osipov established that if you are dismissed for whistleblowing, you can bring a claim against the individuals who made the decision to dismiss you. This makes it possible to hold individual managers or coworkers liable for damages you suffer which flow from your dismissal. 

Tiplady v City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council [2019] EWCA Civ 2180

In the Tiplady case the Court of Appeal confirmed that whistleblowing protections only apply to mistreatment suffered in the ‘field of employment’. Therefore, whistleblowing law  does not extend to protect whistleblowers from negative acts that they experience outside of the employment context (i.e. in their private lives) even if they are perpetrated by an employer.  

In this case, Mrs Tiplady brought a claim alleging that she had been victimised by the local council, for whom she worked, following her making a Protected Disclosure. The tribunal found that the detriment she was claiming related to how the council was dealing with her personal property issues. They stated that this related to her as a householder rather than a worker, so was outside the scope of whistleblowing law. 


Bolton School v Evans [2006] EWCA Civ 1653

If a worker commits an act that the employer considers misconduct, then it may undermine their legal protection as a whistleblower.  

In Bolton an employee made a protected disclosure about the school’s IT system being easy to hack. He hacked into the system to prove that he was right about his concern. The Court of Appeal found that his disclosure was protected by the law, but the hacking was not protected. Therefore, when the school disciplined him, this was not for his whistleblowing but for him having hacked into the IT system. 

Whistleblowers should bear this case in mind when gathering information and making disclosures. If you commit a misconduct or legal breach while raising concerns, the law will not necessarily protect you. 

Kong v Gulf International Bank (Protect intervening) [2022] EWCA Civ 941

This was a controversial judgment which in some circumstances, may make it easier for employers to dismiss whistleblowers.  

In Kong, the court found that Ms Kong had raised whistleblowing concerns, and had been unfairly dismissed. However, she still lost her claim for automatic unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing, as it was found that the principal reason for her dismissal was not the fact that she blew the whistle. It was held that the dismissal was because of her behaviour when blowing the whistle and the consequent breakdown of the relationship between her and the Head of Legal.  

To bring a claim of automatic unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing, a whistleblower needs to show that making a Protected Disclosure was the sole or principal reason that they were dismissed. The whistleblower will not win their claim if their employer successfully argues that there was another reason for their dismissal.  This case suggests that an employer can legitimately dismiss a whistleblower if their reason for doing so is the manner in which they made their disclosures, rather than the disclosures themselves. 

To ensure protection under the law, whistleblowers must therefore be very careful not to give the employer any other reason to dismiss. Ensure that concerns are raised in a professional and  conciliatory manner, and try to avoid, unless necessary, direct criticism of a co-worker’s competence. 


This case is an example of the high value of damages that can be awarded in whistleblowing cases. Unlike some other employment claims, damages in whistleblowing cases are uncapped. This means that large awards can be made for future losses, including where a person cannot return to work in the relevant field they raised concerns in. 

Whistleblowing can unfortunately have devastating and long-lasting effects on a person’s career. In the case of Fairhall, the tribunal accepted that, due to the severe retaliation she faced after blowing the whistle, Mrs Fairhall had would not be capable of undertaking any kind of work in the future – her whistleblowing was effectively career-ending. 

Mrs Fairhall received a total of £472,800.44 in compensation. Her future loss was calculated to be £99,735.71.  

It is important to note that the losses were calculated up until the date that she was expected to retire.  


If I settle my claim, but face further retaliation from my employer, can I sue them?

Dr Sara Ajaz v Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: [2023] EAT 142

This case is a reminder to be careful when signing settlement agreements. Once you have signed away your right to bring a claim, it may be gone for ever, even if circumstances change. 

The claimant had faced retaliation for making protected disclosures but dropped her claim after reaching a settlement with her employer. Negotiating through ACAS, she signed a COT3 agreement, in which she agreed to give up her claims. However, she later faced further retaliation from the same employer, and tried to bring a new case. 

The Employment Appeals Tribunal ultimately held that even though there were new detriments, it would be an ‘abuse of process’ to allow her to bring a new claim, as she had signed away this right as part of her settlement. 

This shows how important it is to ensure that settlement agreements are carefully drafted. Seek legal advice before signing to ensure you know what you are committing to. 

Thinking of blowing a whistle?

If you want to blow the whistle to your employer and they don’t have a whistleblowing policy, contact our Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email. We can help you think through how best to raise your concerns and check whether your concerns regard a matter of public interest or how you have been treated as an individual.