Is a UK code of practice on whistleblowing on the horizon, asks Eversheds’ Rice-Birchall

Eversheds parter Simon Rice-Birchall has commented in anticipation of the government’s findings from its call for evidence regarding current whistleblowing laws, which are due any day. 

Rice-Birchall said that employers will be relieved to learn that the government does not appear to support mandatory measures, requiring employers to adhere to prescribed policies and procedures. Instead, he said, it seems more likely that the heart of reform will lie in a voluntary code of practice.

He continued: ‘Faced with an extremely long list of workers to whom it is argued whistleblowing protection should now be extended, the government has claimed it will aim to “strike the right balance to include those where there is clear detriment suffered”. Workers, such as non-executive company directors and those filling public appointments, thereby being in positions of knowledge and a degree of independence, may now be added to those categories of workers receiving protection.

‘However, the government’s conservative response suggests arguments in favour of protecting other groups, such as job applicants [in the sense of those who are new to an organisation], are less likely to be able to demonstrate clear detriment, for the time being at least.

‘It will be interesting to see whether the government chooses to include partners in LLPs in any proposals, a category of workers who might potentially be exposed to detriment and whom current court proceedings are endeavouring to bring under the umbrella of whistleblowing protection.’

Rice-Birchall added that considerable focus of debate has been upon the role of regulators in the context of whistleblowing, and that the automatic referral of tribunal claims to the appropriate regulating body is known to be under serious consideration.

He said: ‘The list of recognised regulators, or “prescribed persons”, is also under review but will not be changed in the immediate future and will wait until the list needs the next of its fairly regular revisions, to accommodate name changes, mergers, etc.

‘Even so, it seems widely accepted that both the current list of regulators to whom whistleblowing must be reported currently and the method for updating that list, which is by statutory instrument, are ripe for reform.’