The Whistleblower Bill starts being debated in parliament this evening. The government has said it will be made law before the House rises for the summer recess. The Opposition has said it will vote in favour, saying the text is not much different from what the former government had prepared.
The Bill lays down that subject to some exceptions (explained in the Bill) and despite any prohibition or restriction on the disclosure of information under any law, contract, oath or practice, a whistleblower may not be subjected to detrimental action for making a 'protected disclosure'. A whistleblower will not be liable to legal or disciplinary action.
The Bill provides that criminal proceedings can be taken against the whistleblower where the said whistleblower was the perpetrator or an accomplice in an improper practice which constitutes a crime. However, there may be exceptions from court action upon a decision by the Attorney General after having consulted the Police Commissioner and a judge under conditions which the AG deems fit.
A court may also consider reducing a penalty on the basis that the accused was a whistleblower and his information helped reveal crime and others involved in it. In some cases, a court may even decide against imposing a penalty. The same principle applies in the case of disciplinary proceedings.
WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAMME
Where a whisteblower is willing to give the police reliable information and documents relating to the commission of a crime consisting of a corrupt practice, such a person can be admitted to the witness protection programme so that his identity and the source of the information can be protected.
The Bill lays down safeguards to prohibit disclosure of information which would identify a whistleblower.
Whistleblowers who suffer damages as a result of their disclosure will have the right to compensation.
Disclosure would be recognised as 'protected disclosure' when:
(a) it is made in good faith;
(b) the whistleblower reasonably believes, at the time of making the disclosure based on the information he has at that moment, that: the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true; the information disclosed tends to show an improper practice being committed by his employer, another employee of his employer or by persons acting in the employer’s name and interests; and the disclosure is not made for purposes of personal gain.
It will be an offence to intentionally provide false or misleading information with the intention of causing harm.
Disclosure of information which is subject to the Professional Secrecy Act is not a 'protected disclosure' for the purposes of this law.
The law lays down how whistleblowers can pass on information in private and public organisations. All employers must have in operation internal procedures for receiving and dealing with information about improper practices. Detailed rules will be published once the Bill becomes law.
The Bill also provides for penalties when people are threatened or forced not to disclose information or after they disclose information. They include a prison term of up to three months and a fine of up to €1,200, without prejudice to heavier punishment to which the offence may be liable under other laws.
The Bill is to be introduced in parliament by the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Owen Bonnici.
See full text of the Bill by clicking on the pdf below.