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Is there enough protection for whistle-blowers?

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Emily Scott, a former trainee solicitor, reports that she feels let down by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA), the legal professions’ regulatory body, after she was struck off alongside two partners who she ‘blew the whistle on’.

Ms Scott blew the whistle on partners, Jonathan De Vita and Christopher Platt for their misconduct in taking advantage of and overcharging vulnerable clients. Although both partners were struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for their misconduct, Ms Scott was also struck off for being dishonest despite the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal acknowledging that she was working in a horrendous environment where she feared for her job. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal agreed that she had been “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” into covering up their misconduct, however, she was aware of the behaviour for a significant period of time and had the means to report the matter confidentially to the SRA[1].

Ms Scott feels this judgment could prevent other people in similar situations from coming forward.     

Whistleblowing law is designed to protect workers from being subjected to a detriment or dismissal as a result of whistleblowing where the wrongdoing is in the public interest. In this case, there is the added complexity of the regulatory body imposing a sanction.

How have the SRA responded?

Following this judgment, the SRA has reviewed its whistle-blower’s charter and is “concerned” by the suggestion that people are failing to report misconduct early as a result of internal pressures and influences being put on compliance officers[2]. The purpose of the charter is to ensure that people who disclose information in relation to suspected misconduct are not persecuted as a result of their actions.

The SRA has proposed new rules for approval by the Legal Services Board, designed to make it clear to solicitors what is expected of them and what protection they will have for whistleblowing. The proposals include making it clear that the persecution of whistleblowers will not be tolerated and encouraging individuals to report incidents promptly and without fear. In response to concerns that compliance officers are struggling to fulfil their obligations, the SRA has said that individuals can report matters direct to them, provided the allegations are not frivolous or undeserved.

What to do if you wish to raise concerns

If you are an employee and believe that your employer is doing something unlawful, the first step is to check your employer’s whistleblowing policy which should set out the steps that you should take. If your employer does not have a policy, you can still report your concern to your employer. You should also take legal advice.

If you would like to discuss this article in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Team.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.