Reporter 445, 24 January 1999


index of Reporter 445

THE UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS

 

 

Code of Practice on Whistleblowing

Set out below is the University’s code of practice on whistleblowing. It accords with recent legislation, and especially with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, but is not intended to be a simple replication of the Act. Instead, it sets out the way in which the University will implement its responsibilities in respect of whistleblowing. Indeed, the code is in parts broader in application than the Act: it covers students, for example, who are not protected under the Act. However, the code is not a substitute for the legal protection afforded by the Act, the statutory provisions of which apply irrespective of anything set out below.

The code falls into two sections. The first, covered in paragraphs 1-14, constitutes a statement of general policy, the underlying theme of which is that the University encourages, and will support, responsible whistleblowing. The second section, covered in paragraphs 15-19, outlines the procedure by which the University will handle concerns expressed by any whistleblower.

 

Policy

Introduction

1. The University of Leeds is committed to conducting its affairs in accordance with the highest possible standards of probity and integrity, and to maintaining governance arrangements which are efficient, effective and economic, expeditious and timely, open and transparent, and collegial; which meet relevant legal requirements and obligations; which provide for proper accountability; and which promote integrity and objectivity in the conduct of University business.

2. In this context, the University is committed to ensuring that it has procedures in place to help to expose any malpractice, misconduct, corruption, maladministration or other impropriety.

  1. Usually, members of staff or students are the first to become aware of suspected malpractice or impropriety. The University recognises that it is by no means an easy task to ‘blow the whistle’ on such suspicions. It recognises, for example, that a person suspecting malpractice or impropriety might be reluctant to take steps which might lead to action being taken against fellow members of the institution; similarly, it recognises that individuals suspecting malpractice or impropriety might be deterred from reporting it by a fear that they themselves might be victimised. Nonetheless, if the University is to maintain the highest standards of conduct, it must be given the opportunity to investigate any suspected instance of malpractice or impropriety. It might be that an allegation proves to be unfounded, but it is in everyone’s interests - and those of the University as a whole - that all allegations are investigated and properly resolved. The University therefore affirms that, unless he or she is acting maliciously, anyone raising concerns about malpractice or impropriety is acting responsibly and properly; this is true even if the concern turns out to be due to a misunderstanding or otherwise groundless. (The University does, however, have a duty to protect its employees from malicious complaints; and appropriate disciplinary action may be taken against anyone found to have acted maliciously in bringing forward an unfounded allegation.) Against this background, it should be understood that every member of staff has a role to play in protecting the integrity of the University’s activities; and all staff are strongly encouraged to report any suspected malpractice or impropriety.

4. This document has been drawn up in order to provide staff and students with the support and guidance they will need if they suspect that malpractice or impropriety has taken place. All such concerns will be taken seriously, and will be handled fairly and in confidence.

 

What is whistleblowing?

5. Whistleblowing has been defined as

the disclosure ... of confidential information which relates to some danger, fraud, or other illegal or unethical conduct connected with the workplace, be it of the employer or ... employees.

6. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 encourages employees to raise such concerns internally in the first instance, and regulates the situations in which they may raise the matter externally (see below). Among other things, the Act defines the type of ‘qualifying disclosure’ covered by the Act as one which is made

in ‘good faith’, in the reasonable belief that the allegation is substantially true, and which has not been made for personal gain

7. This definition provides one of the underlying assumptions for the policy and procedures set out in this document, in that they are intended not only to provide guidance and protection to those making disclosures, but to ensure that disclosures are made with good reason and not for trivial, vexatious or malicious reasons.

 

What type of incident or behaviour is covered?

8. Although this list is not exhaustive, instances of serious malpractice or impropriety might include:

 

Who is covered by University’s procedures?

9. The procedures set out below apply to all staff and students of the University, to members of the Court and the Council, to retired and honorary staff and to staff employed by subsidiary companies of the University.

 

Principles informing the University's approach

10. The University is committed to investigating disclosures fully, fairly, quickly, and confidentially, and to protect those making allegations from victimisation. In the latter connection, the University will take all reasonable steps to ensure that the identity of those raising allegations, and of those against whom such allegations are made, will be kept secret except insofar as disclosure is judged necessary for the purpose of carrying out a full and fair investigation (or for taking appropriate action against anyone found to have acted improperly).

 

Anonymous disclosures

11. There may be occasions when members of staff feel that the circumstances of any allegation of malpractice or impropriety are such that they can only make a disclosure anonymously. Unfortunately, it can be difficult, however, to investigate anonymous disclosures properly, and equally difficult to make judgements about the extent to which such a disclosure has been made in ‘good faith’ (see paragraph 6 above); and there may be instances in which, having taken all the information available into account, the University might not pursue anonymous allegations.

 

External disclosure

12. As noted in paragraph 6 above, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 regulates the situations in which employees can make external disclosures. The University is confident that the procedure for internal disclosure of allegations of malpractice or impropriety set out in this document is sufficiently robust to ensure that suspicions are properly dealt with. Nonetheless, a paper setting out the criteria within which legal protection is afforded under the Act for external disclosures is attached as Annex I.

 

Support and advice

13. Within the University, advice and guidance to those contemplating blowing the whistle is available from staff unions and the University (Students’) Union. Personal support may also be available from the Staff Counsellor.

14. Externally, a charity entitled Public Concern at Work offers, among other things, help and advice for staff and employers in connection with whistleblowing. Members of staff who wish to do so can contact the organisation either on ( 0171 404 6609 or via website http://www.pcaw.demon.co.uk.

 

Procedure

Raising concerns

15. In general, members of the University wishing to ‘blow the whistle’ on suspected malpractice or impropriety should contact the Registrar and Secretary, though they may if they wish contact another senior officer of the University (in particular, the Finance and Commercial Director, the Director of Human Resources or the Deputy Secretary) and, if they wish to avoid going through the Administration, they may raise their concerns with any member of the Court or the University’s Audit Committee or the University’s internal auditors (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Whistleblowers will normally be asked to put their concerns in writing, and, unless the concern relates to the Registrar and Secretary, will be referred to him to take forward as described below. The Registrar and Secretary may delegate to another officer of the University his responsibilities under this code of practice.

 

What action will be taken at this stage?

  1. An official, written record will be kept of each stage of the procedure.


If the disclosure relates to suspected misconduct in academic research, the matter will be taken forward under the University’s Protocol for Investigating Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. If the disclosure relates to suspected financial misconduct, it will be investigated under the procedure set out in Chapter 2 of the University’s Financial Procedures. If it relates to harassment or workplace bullying, it will be investigated through the University’s Code of Practice thereon. If it relates to other matters, it will normally be dealt with by the Registrar and Secretary or his or her nominee, who will first meet the whistleblower and establish the basis of his or her concern, and then undertake such other enquiries as he or she considers necessary to determine whether or not there are prima facie grounds for considering that the concern is well-founded. If the conclusion is reached that there are such prima facie grounds, the Registrar and Secretary or his or her nominee may

(a) refer the matter to an external authority, for example the Police

  1. initiate an investigation through the University itself.

17 If, on the other hand, the conclusion is reached that there are no prima facie grounds for considering that the concerns are well-founded, the complainant and the Chairman of the Audit Committee will be advised accordingly. If the person who raised the concerns is not satisfied with the basis of that conclusion, he or she may ask the Chair of Court to appoint another person to review the decision. (The Court is a body which stands beyond, and above, the University’s decision-making machinery and management: its role is, as a guardian of the public interest, to see that the University is well managed, properly governed and responsive to public and local interests and concerns.)

  1. Any investigation under 16 (b) will be carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and with due regard to the statutory rights of all individuals involved in the case. The University will take all reasonable measures to ensure that an investigation is concluded as quickly as possible, and that it is impartial.
  2. Although the form of an investigation under 16 (b) will vary depending on the nature of the suspected malpractice or impropriety, the University will normally involve people independent of the University’s management in the investigation. The default will be to invite the Court to establish a committee of three or four persons to hear the evidence and prepare a report with recommendations as appropriate.
  3. On completion of an investigation, a formal report will be submitted to the Registrar and Secretary, with a copy made available to the whistleblower. The Registrar and Secretary may make copies available to others at his discretion, but will in all cases send one to the Chairman of the Audit Committee. The Registrar and Secretary and the Chairman of the Audit Committee will review the report and the actions taken to resolve the issue, and may request further actions or require a further report to satisfy themselves that the matter has been fully resolved. In particular, and in collaboration with other officers as appropriate, the Registrar and Secretary will ensure that appropriate action is taken if the investigation finds that the whistleblower’s concern have substance and that there has been some malpractice or impropriety; such action may include action under the University’s disciplinary procedures.

view annex to report

 

 

 

JRG/MKM

Jrgwb3.doc

8.12.99.