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Public and private office holders

Public and private office holders

The issue:

As the UK whistleblowing law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) stands, public and private office holders such as Trustees and local authority councillors are not protected in relation to any concerns they raise about their role or work. Public and Private Office holders include:

  • statutory appointments such as registered company directors or secretaries, board members of statutory bodies, or crown appointments
  • club treasurers or trade union secretaries
  • trustees
  • ecclesiastical appointments, such as members of the clergy

These individuals are required to rely on any common law or contractual claim if they blow the whistle and are then subject to a detriment/s as a result of raising whistleblowing concerns (e.g. having their contract or office terminated, or not renewed).

Recent case law has extended the protection to some office holders. In the case of (Gilham v Ministry of Justice) the Supreme Court agreed that  judicial appointments – which are appointed ‘Office Holders’ should be entitled to protection under PIDA on human rights grounds.

UK whistleblowing law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) became law as the result of a Private Member’s Bill and there was little debate at the time on non-traditional employment relationships such as office holders. Many people in these positions hold significant public responsibility and should be encouraged to raise public interest concerns. For example, clergy or religious ministers work closely with vulnerable groups (including children) in their community and should also be protected where they speak up about wrongdoing.

Case-study: Public office holder District Judge Gilham

Clare Gilham was a district judge who raised a number of concerns regarding funding cuts to the justice system, a lack of appropriate and secure court rooms and severe administrative failures.  She suffered as a result, being isolated and excluded and brought a whistleblowing claim.

The central issue for the Supreme Court was whether Judge Gilham should have the whistleblowing protection. They rejected the suggestion that there was any employment contract, and also held that judges are not crown employees.  However, they should be granted whistleblowing protection in order to give effect to their right not to be discriminated in the enjoyment of their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 and Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Supreme Court said the definition of worker in PIDA  should  include judicial office holders.

Protect saysThe decision is a very welcome step forward in extending whistleblowing protection to wider groups of individuals to raise concerns about public interest workplace wrongdoing. The case could pave the way for other office holders such as trustees, foster carers and priests to be protected under PIDA if they successfully bring a test case.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal: An investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse completed in 2020 identified numerous instances of child sexual abuse and insufficient safeguarding measures by the Catholic Church

In its report, “The Roman Catholic Church Investigation Report”, the Independent Inquiry of Child Sexual Abuse found that:

“Some institutions and individuals in the Church failed to report allegations and concerns to police and statutory authorities as required. In some cases, members of the dioceses and religious institutes actively took steps to shelter and shield those accused of child sexual abuse.”

The Inquiry recommended safeguarding training for all staff and volunteers, a review of all policies, including whistleblowing, and a clear complaint procedure.

Protect says

Protect’s whistleblowing bill includes office holders. Public and private office holders hold positions of power and responsibility. Their work directly impacts the public and they can work with some of society’s most vulnerable people. Public interest concerns within these workplaces can include sexual harassment, abuse of children, miscarriages of justice, or abuse of power. Whistleblowing law was intended to encourage the disclosure of these exact types of concerns, yet most office holders likely to witness the wrongdoing are excluded from the law.

Whistleblowing affects us all. Protect’s campaign Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law needs your support. Click the banner below to write to your local MP.