THE VETERINARY COUNCIL OF IRELAND - Guide to the Protected Disclosures Act 2014
THE PROTECTED DISCLOSURES ACT 2014
Disclosure of wrongdoings:
Information for persons wishing to make protected disclosures in relation to the regulation and management of the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing under section 7 of the Protected Disclosures Act (“the Act”).
What is a protected disclosure?
The purpose of the Act is to provide a statutory framework within which workers can raise concerns regarding a potential wrongdoing that has come to their attention in the workplace in the knowledge that they can avail of significant employment and other protections if they are penalised by their employer or suffer any detriment for doing so. The motivation for making the disclosure is irrelevant to the question of whether the disclosure is a protected disclosure.
The Veterinary Council of Ireland (“VCI”) is a body which has been prescribed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to receive disclosures about wrongdoings relating to the regulation and management by the VCI of the practice of veterinary medicine and nursing.
The purpose of this document is to provide information to persons who may wish to make a disclosure in relation to a wrongdoing that falls within the remit of the VCI. Details on the role and functions of the VCI can be found on the website www.vci.ie.
The Act is retrospective in effect. This means that a disclosure made before the date of the Act (15 July 2015) may be a protected disclosure.
What is a “relevant wrongdoing”?
The definition of relevant wrongdoing is wide and includes wrongdoings that have occurred, are occurring or which are likely to occur. Relevant wrongdoings include the following:
- The commission of an offence;
- The failure to comply with a legal obligation;
- The occurrence of a miscarriage of justice;
- The endangerment of the health and safety of an individual;
- Damage to the environment;
- Unlawful or improper use of public funds/monies;
- Maladministration/gross mismanagement by a public official; or
- The concealment or destruction of information tending to show any of the above.
Who can make protected disclosures?
The Act protects workers in all sectors. The concept of ‘worker’ is very broad and includes employees (permanent and temporary), contractors, trainees, agency staff and former employees.
When is a disclosure to the VCI as a prescribed body protected?
A disclosure may be made to the VCI by a worker who is employed by another organisation and who is not an employee of the VCI. Where a worker makes a disclosure to a prescribed person, in order to be protected under the Act, he must reasonably believe the information disclosed and the allegations made are substantially true. The relevant wrongdoing must fall within the description of matters in respect of which the body is prescribed.
Who else can receive protected disclosures?
Disclosures can also be made to the persons set out below. Different requirements must be satisfied in order for the disclosure to be protected depending on the category of person to whom the disclosure is made:
- Disclosure to an employer or other responsible person (Section 6).
- Disclosure to Relevant Minister (Section 8).
- Disclosure to legal adviser (section 9).
- Disclosure to any other person (section 10). For example, such a disclosure could be made where a disclosure for the purposes of section 7 has been made.
The Act will only protect the worker in such cases where:
- He reasonably believed that the information disclosed and the allegations made were substantially true;
- He did not make the disclosure for personal gain; and
- It was reasonable for him to make the disclosure.
In addition, to (a), (b) and (c) above, one of the following conditions must also be met:
- At the time the worker made the disclosure, he reasonably believed that if he had disclosed the information directly to his employer/responsible person, a prescribed person or the relevant Minister, he would have been penalised; or
- No relevant person was prescribed for the purposes of the Act and the worker reasonably believed that if he made the disclosure to his employer/responsible person or to the relevant Minister, it was likely that the evidence relating to the relevant wrongdoing would be concealed or destroyed; or
- The worker had previously made a disclosure of substantially the same information to his employer/responsible person, a prescribed person or to the relevant Minister and the relevant wrongdoing is of an exceptionally serious nature.
In determining whether the disclosure is in all the circumstances reasonable, regard shall be had to a number of factors including identity of the person to whom the disclosure is made, the seriousness of the relevant wrongdoing, whether the wrongdoing is continuing or likely to occur in the future, outcome of previous disclosure and whether the disclosure is made in breach of a duty of confidentiality.
The legislation gives a variety of protections to persons making protected disclosures or who may have suffered harm as a result of a protected disclosure made by another person.
- Protection from dismissal for having made a protected disclosure;
- Protection from penalisation by the employer;
- Civil immunity from action for damages and a qualified privilege under defamation law;
- A right of action in tort where a whistle-blower or a member of his family experiences coercion, intimidation, harassment or discrimination at the hands of a third part’;
- It will not be a criminal offence to make a whistleblowing report which is a protected disclosure under the Act; and
- Protection of his identity (subject to certain exceptions).
The last protection is of particular relevance in relation to the investigation of concerns and complaints by the VCI. A person who receives a protected disclosure or a person to whom such a disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties must take all reasonable steps to avoid disclosing to another person any information that might identify the person making the protected disclosure.
A failure to comply (i.e. take all reasonable steps not to disclose) is actionable by the person by whom the protected disclosure was made if that person suffers any loss as a result.
This protection does not apply if:
- The person to whom disclosure made believes that person making disclosure does not object to their identity being revealed; or
- The person to whom disclosure is made believes that disclosing the identity is necessary for the effective investigation of the relevant wrongdoing, to prevent serious risk to the security of the State, public health or public safety, the prevention of crime or prosecution of a criminal offence, or if it is in the public interest. In order to properly investigate a complaint in relation to a veterinary practitioner or a veterinary nurse the VCI may be obliged under the Veterinary Practice Act 2005, as amended or under the principles of natural justice to reveal the identity of a person who makes a protected disclosure.
To whom should I make my disclosure?
Under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (Section 7(2) (2)) Order 2014 the Registrar of the VCI has been prescribed as the person to whom protected disclosures should be made:
Veterinary Council of Ireland
53 Lansdowne Road
Phone: 01 6684402 Email: [email protected]
The information provided above is not a legal interpretation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. The VCI cannot advise you on whether the disclosure you may intend to make, whether to it or any other body specified in the legislation will qualify as a protected disclosure.