Protect Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons, reflects on the Economic Crime Bill and what it means for whistleblowing and the fight against corruption in the UK. He also looks forward to the next Economic Crime Bill, which promises more comprehensive action to protect whistleblowers.
It should have happened sooner, and it should not have taken the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless it was positive that the Government introduced and Parliament passed a new anti-corruption bill. The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill was given Royal Assent on the 15th March and represents an initial clamp down on corrupt practices in the wake of the invasion by tackling the flow of Oligarch and Kleptocrat money through the UK. The bills key components include:
- A new Register of Overseas Entities, requiring those behind foreign companies which own UK property to reveal their identities, will also be created under the act. Entities who refused to name the ‘beneficial owner’ could face £2500 fine per day, or up to 5 years in prison.
- Reforms to Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) which will increase time available to law enforcement to review material provided in response to a UWO and protecting them from incurring substantial legal costs if they act reasonably in a case that is ultimately unsuccessful.
Protect with the Parrhesia Institute and others have argued that whistleblowing would be key to enforcing the measures in this new bill. We have pushed for legal standards to be created that enhance the protection for whistleblowers and improve the response from regulators and law enforcement bodies.
We assisted in the drafting and supported amendments tabled by MPs that would have created a Whistleblowing Commissioner (who would have the power regulate whistleblowing among employers and regulatory bodies) and a public interest defense for whistleblowers threatened with legal action for making disclosures related to corruption known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPS).
We were unable to persuade the Government that this bill was the place to implement whistleblowing reforms but these important issues were debated in Parliament and carried cross party support. The Government have also launched a new inquiry looking at the issues of SLAPPS and Protect will submit evidence highlighting how such legal actions has a devasting effect on whistleblowers.
The Government have promised a second bill which they have said will include reform of Companies House (the body that will set up and regulate the Register of Overseas Entities), Protect with allies inside and outside Parliament will press the Government for whistleblowing reform to be included in this new bill.