Reporter 445, 24 January 1999

index of Reporter 445


Whistleblowing: legal protection for disclosure



1. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 gives protection to whistleblowers but only if certain conditions are met. First, the disclosure has to be about a particular category of concern (see paragraph 2 below). Second, the disclosure must be made in a certain way (see paragraphs 3-8 below).

Qualifying disclosures

2. The Act provides protection for a worker only if he/she makes a qualifying disclosure, which is the disclosure of any information which the worker reasonably believes to indicate one or more of the following:

Protected disclosures

3. When making a qualifying disclosure a worker is protected under the Act only if he/she is acting in good faith, and if he/she uses one of the following specified internal or quasi-internal routes of disclosure (not all of which are necessarily applicable in the university context):

Additional statutory requirements for external disclosure

  1. There are additional statutory requirements where a disclosure is made externally. The Act provides for the following three separate situations.

Disclosure to a prescribed person

  1. This covers disclosure to a prescribed person or regulatory body prescribed by an order made by the Secretary of State for these purposes. In this case, to be covered by the protection afforded by the Act, a worker will have to show that he/she

General external disclosures

  1. If making a general external disclosure (e.g. through the press), to be covered by the Act a worker must fulfil the conditions set out in paragraph 5 above, and in addition must also show either that

  1. In this context, reasonableness will be determined in relation to a variety of considerations including, inter alia: the identity of the person to whom the disclosure is made; the seriousness of the transgression and whether or not it is likely to recur; whether, in making a disclosure to an employer, the whistleblower has complied with his/her employer’s whistleblowing procedure; and any action which the recipient of any previous disclosure has taken.

Exceptionally serious breaches

  1. While an exceptionally serious breach essentially falls into the category of a general external disclosure, the gravity of such a disclosure means that the requirements under the Act are different. In such a case, paragraphs 6 and 7 above do not apply, and a worker is protected under the Act provided only that he/she can demonstrate that


  1. The Act provides statutory protection for a worker making a disclosure provided that
  2. (a) the disclosure is covered by one or more of the six categories of qualifying disclosures set out in paragraph 2 above, and

    (b) the disclosure is either

    (i) an internal or quasi-internal protected disclosure as set out in paragraph 3 above; or

    (ii) an external disclosure covered by the statutory requirements set out in paragraphs 5-8 above.

  3. In essence, to gain protection under the Act, the requirements for external disclosure (other than to a legal adviser) are more stringent than those for internal or quasi-internal disclosure, and the effect of the Act is therefore to encourage whistleblowers so far as possible to raise their concerns internally.