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Parliamentary Privilege creates a barrier to civil service whistleblowers

Are civil servants denied the legal protection that other workers have as whistleblowers?

Josie Stewart, Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) whistleblower, who is bringing a claim that she was unfairly dismissed because she blew the whistle can’t rely on parts of her evidence because of Parliamentary Privilege.

The former senior civil servant was dismissed for giving an anonymous BBC interview about the UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Government lawyers argued that the case can’t be heard fairly because Parliamentary Privilege prevents them investigating Josie’s “reasonable belief” that she was raising matters in the public interest.  Parliamentary Privilege means that things said in Parliament by Ministers or others can’t be challenged in the courts.   As a result, Josie’s ability to argue her claim has been restricted by the tribunal.

Yet it was the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee that said: “Those who lead the Foreign Office should be ashamed that two civil servants of great integrity and clear ability felt compelled to risk their careers to bring to light the appalling mismanagement of the Afghan crisis, and the misleading statements to Parliament that followed”. [1]

Andrew Pepper-Parsons, Director of Policy and Communications at Protect says, “Once again, this shows that civil servants face huge challenges as whistleblowers. Yet they have a vital role to play in our democracy to allow those at the very top to be held to account.”

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee noted Josie’s role saying “without the intervention of whistleblowers, we would not be aware that this intervention had taken place at all, despite asking many questions on the topic. Parliament can only perform its role of holding Government to account if it can be confident that it is receiving honest answers to its questions.” [1]

This is another stark example of the need for reforms to strengthen civil servants’ rights as whistleblowers.  These should include an independent statutory commissioner, with broad powers to investigate public interest disclosures, as recommended by the Law Commission and a public interest defence for whistleblowing on national security issues.


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