EU could still undermine its own objectives on whistleblower protection

06/02/19 – It is now crunch time as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council engage in trilogue negotiations to agree the final text of the EU draft directive on the protection of whistleblowers.

WIN presents, courtesy of Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, an analysis of the European Council’s agreed position published on the 29th January 2019. This is what the Council is taking into the negotiations and it is much further away from the European Parliament’s position on the fundamental issue of protecting those who report information directly to competent authorities than we had hoped or can understand.

This Legal Brief explains exactly what the problems are and why enforcing mandatory internal reporting is as bad for business as it is for individuals who want to speak up about wrongdoing, even directly to their employers!

Not only does the European Council retain and reinforce the structural problems of mandatory internal reporting  – originally included by the Commission but removed by Parliament in its proposal! – it has added its own poison pills:

  • restoring vulnerability to obstruction of justice by canceling the clear right to make external disclosures to government authorities immediately;
  • adding an unprecedented subjective test as a prerequisite for the liability shield: the whistleblower not only must prove a reasonable belief of misconduct but also that his or her specific whistleblowing was necessary to reveal it;
  • effectively cancelling the liability shield while adding an unprecedented prerequisite for protected speech — that evidence was lawfully obtained, not just lawfully disclosed. Significantly, this will put the whistleblower on trial in every case, having to win that battle before being able to challenge any retaliation against them for having reported the actual wrongdoing; and
  • finally, by imposing a subjective, unreviewable, open-ended national security loophole giving each nation the option to cancel the Directive’s public freedom of expression rights

 

EU whistleblowers still at risk: An Update

flag-3370970_1920WIN’s Legal Briefs have been updated to include a response to the EU Council which is now scrutinising the draft directive. This update highlights growing concern that the much welcome improvements to the EU draft directive recently voted through the Parliamentary Committee will not replicated by the EU Council.

WIN is grateful to Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project in Washington DC, for his assistance in drafting this latest update.

The main problem, which the EU Council seems set to embrace and which was recently rejected by the JURI Committee in its Report, is that the draft directive reinforces employer control over the reporting of wrongdoing. It does so by making it a requirement for all those in a work-based relationship to report their concern to their employer first. While reporting internally will remain the default for the vast majority of whistleblowers and it makes sense for employers to do all they can to encourage their staff to speak up early, it is dangerous to make it a legal obligation.

Further, making staff use the channels that employers “officially” set up is almost worse. The vast majority of whistleblowers raise concerns as a normal part of doing their jobs and typically it is only as a result of the response they get, that they realise that something is really wrong. Formal reports of wrongdoing via official employer channels set up for that purpose will only ever capture the tip of the information the Directive seeks to protect; the iceberg is the routine reports of discovered problems though the supervisory chain of command and in sensitive assignments such as audits, inspection reports and reports of investigations. Very few people who report problems are doing so specifically to denounce misconduct or as dissidents.

WIN has drafted this Legal Brief in response to the EU Council to help Council members understand why it is important to remedy these structural problems in the draft directive as a matter of urgency.

We are also pleased to offer it to anyone interested in the protection of whistleblowers and in the detail of the debates that are happening in Europe right now.

See WIN‘s other Legal Briefs, including briefs on anonymity and remedies, in the WIN blog posted on 17 October 2018.

Whistleblowing advocacy groups call on Dutch Government to reconsider award to outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Issued today 31 August 2018

We, the undersigned, join the Government Accountability Project in expressing our concern about the decision of the Dutch Government to award the 2018 Human Rights Tulip to outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on 3 September 3 in The Hague. Our concerns are based on the responses to individual OHCHR whistleblowers who disclosed information about serious human rights violations, including the sexual abuse of children by French peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic. We urge the Minister to reconsider proceeding with the award until the UN High Commissioner resolves the outstanding cases of retaliation against the publicly vindicated whistleblowers in his own office.

Pištaljka (“The Whistle”), Serbia
Open Democracy and Advice Centre (ODAC), South Africa
Transparency International Netherlands, Netherlands
Riparte il futuro, Italy
Centre for Free Expression Whistleblowing Initiative, Canada
Transparency International Ireland, Ireland
The Ethicos Group, Australia
Speak Up, Speak Out Ltd., United Kingdom

See WIN letter to Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister including press release from the Government Accountability Project.

Irish government should scrap trade secrets amendment that could criminalise whistleblowing

 

‘Ireland had the strongest whistleblower law in the EU and had inspired reform with its legislation around the world. It looks like the government has broken something that didn’t need to be fixed. Irish whistleblowers, business and the Irish public will be the real losers here.’

Anna Myers
Whistleblowing International Network (WIN)

04/07/2018 WIN Director Anna Myers has joined several expert organisations, legal advisors and practitioners in signing a letter from Transparency International Ireland urging the Irish Government to amend the EU Protection of Trade Secrets Regulation (SI 188) on the basis of its creation of a new test for whistleblowers. Unlike the existing Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (PDA), SI 188 requires whistleblowers to demonstrate that their disclosure was motivated by a general public interest concern even if the disclosure is later deemed to be true, related to a criminal offence, or they reported it to their employer or the appropriate authorities.

Whilst the EU Trade Secrets Directive (passed in July 2016) is supposed to provide strong safeguards for intellectual property holders, there is no requirement in the Directive for any EU Member State to create an additional test for whistleblowers. Under the terms of the Irish proposals, whistleblowers reporting offences to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement or to law enforcement will not only be required to show they believed a crime was or about to be committed but will also have to prove they were motivated to protect the general public interest in reporting the crime.

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