The Whistleblowing Commission: avoiding the Jaws phenomenon

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By Annabel Mackay and James Laddie

The Whistleblowing Commission was launched by Public Concern at Work to investigate how UK whistleblowing laws work and how they might be improved. Its recommendations, published in November 2013, will inform the government’s response.

The Whistleblowing Commission was launched against a backdrop of scandals in a range of regulated sectors. As with the scandals that heralded the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (which amended the Employment Rights Act 1996), revelations regarding abuse of vulnerable residents at care homes, LIBOR rigging and phone hacking confirmed that the UK still does not have an environment in which whistleblowers are taken seriously and protected from victimisation.

The commission’s members were drawn from various areas of public life and reported under the chairmanship of retired Court of Appeal and occasional Employment Appeal Tribunal judge, Sir Anthony Hooper. At the launch of the commission’s report on 27 November, Sir Anthony referred to a tendency towards protecting corporate reputations rather than addressing legitimate concerns. He called this the ‘Jaws phenomenon’, by reference to how the town council in the film chose to hide the shark’s presence to avoid frightening away tourists, some of whom met a gory end…

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