Opinion: Why compensating UK whistleblowers would be a positive step

UK whistleblowers should be recompensed for coming forward says Tony McClements.

I have long advocated that UK whistleblowers should be rewarded for coming forward with information. But anybody who becomes a whistleblower, regardless of what the legislation or an HR department might say, can damage their career and future job prospects. This and numerous other reasons often prevent people from whistleblowing in the UK.

So, news that Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Director Nick Ephgrave is pressing for a change in whistleblowing legislation is a positive sign. Ephgrave recently told lawmakers that the UK should pay whistleblowers for providing evidence of wrongdoing from any corporate settlement they help bring about, to help compensate them for the risk of coming forward. Like me, Ephgrave is an ex-law enforcement officer and as such maybe we see the situation differently to those in government.

Regulatory intervention

Some of those opposed to Ephgrave’s notion could be those who might one day find themselves in the crosshairs of a whistleblowing allegation. Others might assert that paying whistleblowers incentivizes them to tell lies and make malicious allegations. But there are safeguards in place in the form of due process, where standalone and uncorroborated allegations from whistleblowers will likely fail to reach the required standard for regulatory intervention.

Likewise, anybody willing to utter untruths in the form of malicious allegations runs the risk of defamation lawsuits, and potentially other charges, such as wasting police time and perverting the course of justice. I would anticipate that anyone coming forward as a whistleblower will equally be made aware of the repercussions of raising a malicious complaint, as well as the potential financial incentives for doing so.

Ephgrave recently stated to a Commons Committee: “If someone who knows what’s happened is willing to tell you how it happened, who did what, and where the evidence might be located, it will significantly shorten our investigative practice because it will take us to the important material.”

Sharpest tool in the box

I totally agree with his position. I have stated previously that whistleblowing is one of the sharpest of tools in the anti-corruption, anti-money-laundering toolbox. It makes organisations and rogue senior managers think twice before greasing the palm of a corrupt local official to “straighten out” any obstacles to that lucrative contract.

Though from my perspective, I would prefer to see whistleblowers “recompensed” for coming forward and thus likely damaging their careers, rather than being “incentivized”. There is a difference, albeit a subtle one.

Tony McClements is head of Investigations at Martin Kenney & Co (MKS), an international asset recovery litigation practice based in the British Virgin Islands.