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Whistleblowing

Research Statement

Dr Ashley Savage, specialist in whistleblowing, information rights and governance

Introduction

Whistleblowers can act as a vital source of intelligence to security, law enforcement and regulatory authorities. As the United Kingdom intends to continue to engage with, and operate in, EU member states post Brexit, it is extremely important that the aforementioned organisations develop and maintain protocols for receiving information from whistleblowers operating outside of the UK jurisdiction but that they also continue to receive and share information from enforcement and regulatory authorities based in the EU. If policy makers in the United Kingdom do not give sufficient regard to the handling of whistleblowing concerns and the protection of whistleblowers, there is a danger that information vital to the national interest may be lost.

Whilst the European Commission is working towards implementing a directive on the protection of whistleblowers across the EU with defined obligations for authorities and employers to receive and handle concerns, the UK’s Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 contains no such requirements. This has resulted in an unwelcome situation whereby organisations, public and private have chosen to adopt various approaches to the handling and receipt of concerns resulting in the inconsistent treatment of whistleblowers. There is a danger that if legislators and policy makers do not keep pace with the changing EU-landscape there will be a significant divergence between how EU member states handle whistleblowing concerns and how the UK attempts to deal with the issue. Whilst it would appear that there are no current plans for the draft EU whistleblowing directive to cover employees of security and intelligence agencies, there is an expectation that, if implemented, individual EU member states will enact domestic legislation which goes further than the directive. EU member states are therefore likely to place whistleblower protection as part of their domestic legislative agenda and could extend protections to employees working in the security and intelligence fields (if they have not already done so). UK policy makers should therefore consider any likely impact of these changes on the sharing of sensitive security and intelligence information with counterparts based in these jurisdictions. Indeed, policy makers drafting the UK-EU security treaty should consider whistleblowing for several reasons:

  • UK agencies obtaining information from whistleblowers based in EU member states: For example, an employee based in an EU member state has information about an unsafe food product which has a direct impact on UK citizens.
  • UK agencies obtaining information from whistleblowers which is of relevance to counterparts based in EU member states: For example, an employee based in the UK raises a concern to a UK agency about the contents of freight destined for an EU member state.
  • The sharing of information originating from whistleblowers by private companies and public organisations based in EU member states to UK agencies.
  • Whistleblower protection for individuals based in an EU member state who raise concerns to a UK agency. These individuals would not currently be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 unless they had a UK contract of employment.
  • Whistleblower protection for UK citizens operating in EU member states. These individuals would not currently be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 unless they had a UK contract of employment.
  • Whistleblower protection for EU citizens operating in the UK for a company based in an EU member state. These individuals would not currently be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 unless they had a UK contract of employment.
  • Whistleblowing mechanisms to ensure the general accountability of any arrangements established following enactment of an EU-UK treaty.

Knowledge and Research

Ashley has a broad experience of conducting research and engaging with stakeholders nationally and internationally. Nationally, Ashley is the author of the monograph Leaks, Whistleblowing and the Public Interest: The Law of Unauthorised Disclosures (Edward Elgar, 2016). Ashley has also conducted research on the handling of whistleblowing concerns by regulators and law enforcement bodies in a joint project with Dr. Richard Hyde, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham. His co-authored research with Dr Richard Hyde on the handling of whistleblowing concerns by regulators was cited with approval by the National Audit Office. Hyde and Savage have also considered the sharing of whistleblowing concerns by transportation safety regulators across Europe with an emphasis on rail regulation. In 2018, Ashley presented his paper entitled ‘Embracing the challenges and opportunities of cross-jurisdictional whistleblowing’ at the OECD Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum as a winner of the ResearchEdge competition. Most recently, Ashley completed an extensive project, entitled Whistleblowing for Change, funded by the Open Society Initiative for Europe. The project comprises of evidence obtained from interviews with key stakeholders in seven EU member states (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom) and Serbia as a comparator together with representatives campaigning for an EU whistleblower directive. Ashley is a regular speaker at national and international events to share insights from his research on how protection for whistleblowers should be improved. For example, he presented at the 2018 Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime (hosted by WhistleblowersUK, Secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing) and at an event hosted by the Open Society Initiative for Europe in Barcelona.

Selected References to Research

Publications

A.Savage, Embracing the Challenges and Opportunities of Cross-jurisdictional Whistleblowing, OECD Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum 2018.

R.Hyde and A.Savage, Coming together to Combat Food Crime: Regulatory networks in the EU, A Handbook on Food Crime Immoral and illegal practices in the food industry and what to do about them (Policy Press, 2018).

A.Savage, Leaks, Whistleblowing and the Public Interest: The law of unauthorised disclosures (Edward Elgar, 2016).

A.Savage and R.Hyde, The response to whistleblowing by Regulators: a practical perspective (2015) 35(3) Legal Studies 408.

A.Savage and R.Hyde, Cross-border concerns: Perils and possibilities, [2013] 2 3 E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies.

R.Hyde and A.Savage Whistleblowing without borders: the risks and rewards of transnational whistleblowing networks, in, Developments in whistleblowing research (International Whistleblowers Research Network, e-book, 2015) (Eds. W.Vandekerckhove and D.Lewis).

 

Dr Ashley Savage (Research Fellow)

Dr. Ashley Savage is a specialist in whistleblowing, information rights and governance based in Vienna, Austria.  He is currently Research Fellow at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Laxenburg Austria. He has previously held positions at the University of Liverpool (Lecturer in Law), Northumbria University (Senior Lecturer in Law) and taught part-time at the University of Durham. Prior to joining Academia, Ashley advised whistleblowers at the charity Public Concern at Work (now ‘Protect’).​