The University has a responsibility to manage itself legally, efficiently and fairly in the wider public interest and for the benefit of its staff, students, customers and collaborators. This requires a free flow of information about serious shortcomings in any of its activities so that appropriate action may be taken.
The Whistleblowing Code of Practice provides details of the University's policy on Whistleblowing and its procedures for reporting and investigating such disclosures. The Whistleblowing Code of Practice is a specific code within the University's overall Complaints and Feedback Procedure. The Code makes provision for staff or students or anyone contractually connected with the University to raise concerns about serious malpractice within the University and to do so with the knowledge that their action will be viewed positively and that they will be protected from victimization.
1. What kind of concerns should be reported?
Actual or suspected criminal offences, failure to comply with legal obligations, serious health and safety risks, damage to the environment, academic malpractice, financial and procedural irregularity, deliberate suppression or concealment of any of these.
2. What concerns should not be reported under this procedure?
(a) Issues for which appropriate procedures already exist. These include Staff Grievances, Harassment and Bullying, Academic Appeals, Student Discipline, Student Academic Complaints, Research Misconduct and Complaints and Feedback relating to other matters.
(b) Personal grievances, which should be reported through the Staff Grievances procedure.
3. To whom should a report be made?
A serious concern should normally be reported to the relevant Head of Department, or in the case of suspected theft or fraud to the Head of Internal Audit. Where this is not felt to be appropriate, a report may be made orally or in writing to any one of the following:
The Registrar; or
4. What will happen next?
(a) The recipient of the disclosure in conjunction with one other senior colleague will undertake or commission whatever preliminary investigations and consultations are necessary to establish whether or not a further and formal enquiry should be instigated.
(b) If it is decided not to establish a formal enquiry, the whistleblower shall be informed in writing with reasons within 20 working days of receipt of the disclosure.
(c) If further investigation is deemed necessary by the recipient of the initial report and senior colleague, it shall be organised by the Registrar unless he/she is the subject of the disclosure in which case the Vice-Chancellor shall act. The investigation may be conducted by an outside agency such as a firm of solicitors or accountants, or by a small group of senior academic and lay members of the University.
(d) The investigating body will report its findings to the recipient of the initial report and he/she shall:
(i) take no further action save to inform the whistleblower of the decision and reasons for it;
or (ii) refer the matter to the police in the case of alleged criminal activities;
or (iii) refer the matter for appropriate action within existing University procedures;
or (iv) refer the matter to the University Council.
Where requested, the identity of the whistleblower will be protected. There may be circumstances, however, where it will not be possible to proceed without revealing the whistleblower's identity, for example if the whistleblower's evidence is needed at a disciplinary or court hearing. Should this be the case, the matter will be discussed with the whistleblower at the earliest opportunity.
It should be noted that fair and due process requires that the alleged perpetrator(s) should be made aware of and given the opportunity to respond to any allegations made against them. Therefore, the University cannot investigate anonymous complaints or whistleblowing reports.
6. Protection of whistleblowers
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides protection for the whistleblower against subsequent victimization by his/her employer.
A disclosure made within the University will be protected under the Act if the whistleblower has an honest and reasonable suspicion that malpractice has or is likely to occur. A disclosure made externally (e.g. to the Police, media or MP) will be protected if the following additional tests are met:
(a) that the whistleblower honestly and reasonably believes the information and any allegation contained in it are substantially true.
(b) that the disclosure has not been made for personal gain.
(c) that the concern has first been raised with the employer unless the whistleblower reasonably believes:
(i) that he/she will be victimized or that there will be a cover-up
or (ii) that the matter is exceptionally serious.
Protection under the Act does not extend to students and other non-employees. The University, however, is wholly committed to the protection of all bona fide whistleblowers whatever their status and will regard any subsequent victimization as a disciplinary offence.
7. Anonymous Complaints
As noted in section 5 of this Code, fair and due process requires that the alleged perpetrator(s) should be made aware of and given the opportunity to respond to any allegations made against them. Therefore, the University cannot investigate anonymous complaints or whistleblowing reports.
8. Malicious Allegations
False and malicious allegations may be treated as a disciplinary offence.
9. Independent Review
When all internal procedures have been exhausted the whistleblower, if dissatisfied with the outcome, may ask for the matter to be referred for independent review. The independent review shall be conducted by a person or persons appointed by the Council on the nomination of the President of The Law Society.
The purpose of the independent review will be:
(a) to rule on whether the University's internal investigation has been properly handled
(b) where it is judged that the investigation was properly handled, to rule on whether the response to the disclosure was reasonable in all the circumstances.
The powers of the person or persons conducting the independent review will include making binding recommendations of the following nature:
(c) ordering a further internal investigation
(d) ordering the University to reconsider the findings of the investigation.
Additionally, there shall be power to:
(e) make non-binding observations relating to the substantive disclosure for the institution to consider
(f) rule, in appropriate cases, that
(i) the whistleblower was actuated by malice, or some other personal or improper motive, and whether the whistleblower should be required to make a contribution to the costs incurred in external review
(ii) the disclosure was without substance or merit, and whether the whistleblower should be required to make a contribution to the costs incurred in external review.
(g) The independent review will not entail oral hearings, but the reviewer will have the power to interview the whistleblower or any other persons, including those who had been involved in the handling of the disclosure. New evidence or relevant material will be considered at the discretion of the reviewer, but will normally be admitted only if it had not been reasonably available at the earlier stages of the internal investigation.
(h) The report of the independent review will be submitted to the Vice-Chancellor, to the Council and the Audit Committee.
10. Independent Advice
Independent and confidential advice may be obtained at any point in this process from the charity "Public Concern at Work" (tel: 020 7404 6609).
Oversight of these procedures shall be the responsibility of the University Audit Committee which shall receive details of all cases brought under the "Whistleblowing" Code of Practice and shall make an annual report to the Council.