Code on Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing)
The University Court accepts and supports the principle of academic freedom, believing that it gives individuals the right to pursue research and express opinions without political pressure, within the constraints of the law. Academic freedom cannot, however, justify a lower level of accountability than is found in the private sector, the Civil Service, the armed forces and elsewhere in the public sector.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act, which came into effect on 1 January 1999, gives legal protection to employees against being dismissed or penalised by their employers as a result of publicly disclosing certain serious concerns. It is a fundamental term of every contract of employment that an employee will faithfully serve his or her employer and not disclose confidential information about the employer's affairs. However, where an individual discovers information which they believe shows malpractice/wrongdoing within the organisation then this information should be disclosed without fear or reprisal, and may be made independently of line management.
It should be emphasised that this policy is intended to assist individuals who believe they have discovered malpractice or impropriety. It is not designed to question financial or business decisions taken by the Institution; nor may it be used to reconsider any matters which have already been addressed under Dignity at Work and Study Policy, complaint or disciplinary procedures.
1. This policy is designed to offer protection to those employees or other members of the University/Institution who disclose such concerns provided the disclosure is made:
i) in good faith, and
ii) in the reasonable belief of the individual making the disclosure that it tends to show malpractice.
The individual will also be protected if they make the disclosure to an appropriate person/body (see below). It is important to note that no protection from internal disciplinary procedures is offered to those who choose not to use the procedure.
2. The University will treat all such disclosures in a confidential and sensitive manner. The identity of the individual making the allegation may be kept confidential so long as it does not hinder or frustrate any investigation. However, the investigation process may reveal the source of the information and the individual making the disclosure may need to provide a statement as part of the evidence required.
3. This policy encourages individuals to put their name to any disclosures they make. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less powerful, but they will be considered at the discretion of the University.
In exercising this discretion, the factors to be taken into account will include:
- the seriousness of the issues raised;
- the credibility of the concern; and
- the likelihood of confirming the allegation from attributable sources.
4. If an individual makes an allegation in good faith, which is not confirmed by subsequent investigation, no action will be taken against that individual. If, however, an individual makes malicious or vexatious allegations, and particularly if he or she persists with making them, disciplinary action may be taken against the individual concerned.
Procedures for making a disclosure
The University Court has put in place policies, rules and regulations relating to a wide range of matters within the University - e.g. delegation of financial authorities, purchasing, fraud, and general systems of internal financial control. It also has an internal audit function to ensure that its controls are effective. It is the responsibility of any member of staff who believes that these policies and procedures have been breached to bring the breach in confidence to the attention of the Secretary of Court or the Principal, who will arrange for any such allegations to be investigated. If an individual does not wish to raise the matter with either the Secretary of Court or the Principal, he or she may raise it with the Convener of the Audit Committee.
In instances of public interest disclosure where there are concerns about the misuse of public funds, the Court, the Convener of the Audit Committee and SHEFC will be informed at an early stage.
Similarly, the Senate has put in place mechanisms to maintain the academic integrity and academic standards of the University - e.g. quality assurance procedures. The Senate expects staff to speak freely, and if necessary in confidence, to the Clerk of Senate or the Principal about academic standards and related matters, particularly if it is suspected that the standards set by the University are not being upheld. In the first instance, the Clerk of Senate will normally be responsible for ensuring that any such complaint is properly investigated.
In the event that any member of staff has concerns about the actions of the Principal, he or she should bring those concerns in confidence to the attention of the Secretary of Court.
The designated person (ie one of Secretary of Court, Principal, Clerk of Senate, Convener of the Audit Committee) will, in consultation with one of the other designated persons, consider the information made available to him/her and decide on the form of investigation to be undertaken. This may be
- to investigate the matter internally
- to refer the matter to the police
- to call for an independent inquiry
If the decision is that investigations should be conducted by more than one of these means, the designated person should satisfy him/herself that such a course of action is warranted, the possibility of double jeopardy notwithstanding. (In addition, in cases alleging misuse of public funds, SHEFC and/or the National Audit Office may wish to undertake their own investigation).
Where the matter is to be the subject of an internal inquiry, the designated person will then consider how to conclude whether there is a prima facie case to answer. This consideration will include determining
- who should undertake the investigation
- the procedure to be followed
- the scope of the concluding report
Normally the Internal Auditor or other independent officer at the institution will undertake this investigation and will report his/her findings to the designated person. Investigations should not be carried out by the person who will have to reach a decision on the matter. Any investigation will be conducted as sensitively and speedily as possible.
As a result of this investigation other internal procedures may be invoked, such as
- grievance or complaints
or it might form the basis of a special investigation.
In some instances it might be necessary to refer the matter to an external authority for further investigation.
The designated person will inform the individual making the disclosure of what action, if any, is to be taken. If no action is to be taken then the individual concerned should be informed of the reason for this and allowed the opportunity to remake the disclosure to another appropriate person. For example, if the initial disclosure was made to an officer of the University then the subsequent disclosure might be made to the Chairperson of Audit Committee or Vice-Chairperson of Court. This other person will consider all the information presented, the procedures that were followed and the reasons for not taking any further action. The outcome of this will be either to confirm that no further action is required or that further investigation is required and will follow the procedures referred to above.
Where a disclosure is made the person or persons against whom the disclosure is made will be told of it, the evidence supporting it and will be allowed to comment after appropriate advice and before any investigation, or further action, is concluded.
Reporting of outcomes
A report of all disclosures and any subsequent actions taken will made by the designated person who will retain such reports for a specified period of time (eg three years). In all cases a report of the outcomes of any investigation will be made to the Audit Committee in detail where the issue falls within its purview, and in summary in other cases as a means of allowing the Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the procedure.
The outcome of all cases involving the misuse of the public funds will reported to SHEFC.