Through the Laworfiction Advice Services we provide a unique facility for professionals to whistle-blow in confidence, to control their disclosures and to gain strength in numbers. We call this the Whistleblowers Safe Space.
On joining the Whistleblowers Safe Space you will, for the duration of your membership:
- through the Laworfiction Advice Services become a client of a law firm
- have any information you disclose to us protected under solicitor/client legal privilege
- through a client group, find and join up with others blowing the same or similar whistle
- control and protect the confidentiality of information you share
- have access to legal advice from experts in whistleblowing law
- enjoy discounted rates for legal advice if you need it
Why this Safe Space is important
Tragedies and terrible mistakes are often avoidable if people are free to speak up – to ‘sound the alarm’ or ‘blow the whistle’ to stop or just draw attention to improper practices.
This was a common thread in a series of scandals and disasters in the late 1980s and early 1990s including the Zeebruge ferry disaster, the 1988 Clapham Junction rail crash, the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig explosion and various financial collapses involving BCCI, Maxwell, Barlow Clowes and Barings. In each of these, staff had been aware of serious risks of physical or financial harm but were too afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal.
As a result, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was introduced, giving whistleblowing employees and workers special protections against suffering any detriment or dismissal. Those include not only the ability to prevent or overturn a dismissal but also to award unlimited compensation. In practice, however, the law in this area is complex and employers continue to use employment contracts and threats of disciplinary sanction to silence their staff.
A Safe Space for You
We invite members of all occupations and professions to join the Whistleblowers Safe Space so that they have a stronger voice and courage to speak out together. We hope the Whistleblowers Safe Space will prove an invaluable tool and rallying point not just for concerned NHS staff, but for teachers and university lecturers, local authority employees, government workers and anywhere that people want, but are too afraid, to speak out.
At this time we expect most concerns to be about organisations’ responses to Covid-19, but we offer Safe Space for other causes.
Joining fees and application can be found here, but this is how it works.
How it works
As a client of the Laworfiction Advice Services you are able to take advantage of ‘legal privilege’, a concept only existing with the legal profession. The effect of this is to give certain communications special protection so that disclosure – whether to employers, regulators, opponents in litigation or indeed any third party – cannot be compelled, no matter what. There are two types of legal privilege but, for each, the technical components must all be met. Described as simply as possible:
Legal advice privilege protects:
- confidential communications
- between a lawyer and client
- for the purpose of giving or receiving legal advice.
Litigation privilege protects:
- confidential communications
- between the client, lawyer and third parties (which may include other clients)
- where litigation is in progress or is in reasonable contemplation
- where the communication is prepared for the “dominant purpose” of that litigation (or avoiding that litigation).
An example may best explain how the Whistleblower Safe Space makes use of legal privilege.
A doctor, Jo, is concerned that her NHS Trust employer is breaching its legal duties towards its patients or staff, failing to assess risks of harms being caused while rigidly following some Covid-Secure guidance. She is concerned that if she reports this to the Trust or outside the Trust, she may be subject to disciplinary sanction or even struck off practicing by a relevant regulator such as the General Medical Council. Thinking she is alone or may easily picked off, she has until now kept her head down and said nothing.
Having found the Whistleblowers Safe Space, she would like to have access to legal advice if she chooses to make whistleblowing disclosure (client privilege). She also wishes to contemplate litigation against the Trust or those who are responsible for its conduct including, perhaps, government ministers. In furtherance of both aims, she sees the benefit of joining forces with others. She sees that, perhaps if there are a significant number of others in the same Trust, or perhaps nationally in similar positions of responsibility who have the same concerns, then together they may have more resources, more support and be more difficult to pick off.
To that end, she provides Laworfiction Advice Services with details of her concerns and evidence in support. She authorises us to consider her concerns alongside others who have joined the Safe Space and, where there are shared interests, consider sharing her disclosure with a view to improving their knowledge as to (a) the strength of their individual and joint legal cases and (b) their prospects in litigation following making of any whistleblowing disclosure, whether that be pursuing or defending litigation. That sharing, in the individual and joint interests of a group of clients, is of course done subject to agreement that any information is received by each of them on strict condition that confidentiality is maintained, that legal privilege is maintained, and that it is not disclosed to anyone else without express permission. (In the unlikely event that another client in the group should breach confidence and an upset Trust or regulator in question tries to take disciplinary action, Dr Jo may remain silent or assert the allegations are hearsay only and demand evidence of them. She knows cannot be disciplined on the basis of what she has disclosed into the Safe Space since, as far as the law is concerned, whatever she has disclosed to Laworfiction Advice Service remains subject to legal privilege.)
In the event, as she and others spread word of the Whistleblowers Safe Space, dozens of medical professionals in the same Trust join. On Dr Jo’s reports alone, the concerns were obvious. However, having access to lots of reports, we are able more clearly to identify:
- breach of legal obligations by the Trust
- the evidence in support
- to whom any disclosure should be made
- if disclosure can be made anonymously, by an individual or by a group with or without any identifiable leader
Through contacts of Laworfiction Advice Services, in appropriate cases we may also be able to access support from experts in public relations, media and other occupations relevant to assessing and controlling whistleblowing disclosures for maximum effect and protection.
Laworfiction Advice Services avoids any conflicting interests by taking a policy decision not to retain or take on as clients any health boards, universities, local or public authorities or other organisations whose principle work is carrying out a public function.
Membership is restricted for the moment but will be opening up soon. Please bear with us.
For more legal information about Laworfiction Advice Services please read here.