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Which whistleblowing measures survived the wash-up?

With the calling of a general election central London is thrown into disarray with the deafening grinding of gears as government slams on the breaks. With political parties thrown into electioneering mode any outstanding Government announcements, policy decisions and most importantly, legislation going through Parliament, are dumped. 

Whitehall enters what’s knowns as the wash-up period which refers to the last few days of a Parliament before dissolution when the Government and Opposition decide which bills are fast-tracked through the Parliament process, and which are dropped. An election also brings delays to policy announcements as the purdah period kicks in, restricting the activities of Government. While not set out in law, governments, ministers and civil servants are mindful not to make announcements or decisions that could be seen to influence the election campaign.   

This blog provides a rundown of the whistleblowing law changes and policy decision that have been delayed, cancelled or have survived the calling of the general election.  

Review of the whistleblowing framework 

Not a piece of legislation per se, but the release of the long-awaited review by the Government into the whistleblowing framework is now on hold due to the election. Led by  the Department for Business and Trade and launched in March 2023  the review was tasked with gathering evidence on the effectiveness of the current regime in enabling workers to speak up about wrongdoing and protect those who do so. Now put on ice we’ll have to wait for the newly elected Government to pick things up, and decide on publishing as is, and reviewing the reforms proposed.  

Statutory Guidance for the Failure to Prevent Fraud  

It has also been confirmed that publication of the highly anticipated statutory guidance for the new failure to new to prevent offence will also be delayed due to the election. Embedded within the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act the offence is will hold a large organisation criminally liable if it benefits from a fraud that is committed by a member of staff. It aims to discourage large organisations from turning a blind eye to fraud and to hold companies to account if they profit as a result. We’ve been waiting for the guidance to spell out how the Act will work in practice – due to the Purdah rules all announcements and publications have been delayed. We’ll be keeping a keen eye peeled for this from July onwards.  

Anti-SLAPP Legislation 

Unfortunately, the Anti-SLAPP bill brought forward as a private members bill by Labour MP Wayne David didn’t make it in the wash-up and is now a dead-duck. This bill, which had cross-party support, would have provided a defense and ability for the courts to strike-out legal actions bought by rich and powerful people to prevent the exposure of wrongdoing. SLAPPs are most commonly used to target journalists, but are also used to silence whistleblowers. Tom Burgis is a good example of a journalist and author who was pursued with legal claims that were not designed to reach court but to financial ruin him and his publisher in having to respond, to stop the publication of his book about corruption. Whistleblower Jonathan Taylor was pursued by his former employer SBM Offshore through the courts in retaliation for exposing their corruption. On a more general note whistleblowing is threatened by SLAPPs as they make it so much harder for journalists to publish their stories, closing off a vital route for disclosing information for whistleblowers. 

We’re proud to have supported the bill as a member of the Anti-SLAPP Coalition – who have expressed disappointment at the news the Bill has been discarded. Our hope is the Bill, or a commitment for new law, will be picked up by the next Government. 

Football Regulator Bill 

This Bill also fell at the wash-up despite carrying cross-party support and receiving favourable media coverage. Given the attention the bill has received it would be a surprise if the next Government didn’t introduce a similar measure in the next Parliament.  We published a blog making the case for a new football regulator to be prescribed under the whistleblowing protection law.

The Victims and Prisoner Act 

This was the only Bill which made it on to the statute books in the wash-up, getting Royal Assent on the 28th May.   

The Bill contained a welcome clause that restricts the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by making it clear from the outset that victims of sexual assault and misconduct cannot be prevented from seeking medical care, legal advice or reporting the incident to the police. The misuse of NDAs and the threats to victims that any settlement payment will be recouped if they speak to anyone has led some victims to fear that they cannot even talk to these obvious sources of support.  

The relevance to whistleblowing is the Minister confirmed that it was not the intention of Government, and Parliament who agreed to this clause, to restrict the ability of whistleblowers – where they are also a victim of sexual harassment or assault – when signing NDAs from raising concerns with MPs or the media. This was a concession Protect secured, asking whether the victims of Crispin Odey in the financial sector would have been prevented from reaching out to journalists about his predatory behaviour under this new law. 

Andrew Pepper-Parsons
Andrew Pepper-Parsons, Director of Policy & Communications

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