All persons employed by the Academy of Forensic Medical Sciences are under an obligation implied in their contract of employment to give honest and faithful service to their employer. This includes an obligation not to disclose to external sources any trade secrets or confidential information acquired during the course of employment or act in a manner that will undermine the mutual trust and confidence on which the employment relationship is based. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 complements those obligations by providing protection to employees for disclosure made without malice and in good faith of certain specific confidential information to a third party in defined circumstances. These are outlined below in paragraph 3. The purpose of this policy is to provide a means by which staff are enabled to raise concerns with the appropriate authorities if they have reasonable grounds for believing there is serious malpractice within the Institution. The Academy encourages staff to raise matters of concern responsibly through the procedures laid down in this policy statement.
No detrimental action of any kind will be taken against a person within the institution raising a concern in the “public interest” under this code, provided that it is done with a reasonable belief that it is true. The Academy will support the employees concerned and protect them from reprisals. It acknowledges the formal protections provided to employees by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This policy is intended to reflect the spirit as well as the letter of that legislation, and it seeks to offer protection to staff in wider circumstances than are provided for by the Act. The Academy seeks to define all its relevant procedures in such a way that they already cover the majority of cases where the actions of others could be brought into question. In particular, there are agreed procedures or codes of practice with regards to Grievances policy. Thus, opportunities for management action should already be available and ideally should largely eliminate the need for concerns to be raised via other routes. The Academy also recognises that its willingness to address concerns in this way raises the risk of vexatious or malicious reports. Not only are such reports unfair to the person about whom they are made, but investigating and dealing with them can consume considerable amounts of senior staff time. For these reasons, deliberate submission of a false report will be regarded as a breach of discipline, and anonymous reports unsupported by evidence will not normally be pursued (see paragraph 4.6.)
The policy is designed to deal with concerns raised in relation to the specific issues which are in the public interest and are detailed below, and which fall outside the scope of other Academy policies and procedures. The policy will not apply to personal grievances concerning an individual’s terms and conditions of employment, or other aspects of the working relationship, complaints of bullying or harassment, or disciplinary matters. Such complaints will be dealt with under existing procedures on grievance, bullying and harassment and discipline. Copy of this policy can also be found on the Academy website.
The policy may deal with specific concerns which are in the public interest and may include:
These concerns may relate to the Academy itself or an individual or individuals. However, it is not possible to give a comprehensive list of actions covered by the policy. Indeed, its purpose is not so much to define inappropriate actions as to ensure that paths are available by which individuals can pursue any concerns in the “public interest” they have about the actions of others. The outcome could be use of the grievance procedures in some cases, and in others that appropriate remedial action is taken.
If in the course of investigation any concern raised in relation to the above matters appears to the investigator to relate more appropriately to grievance, bullying or harassment, or discipline, those procedures will be invoked. It is not possible to give definitive guidance on whether a particular matter should be pursued under this code or through the disciplinary, capability, grievance or harassment procedures. Senior staff will always be willing to give guidance on this question, in strict confidence if necessary.
Any member of staff who has a reasonable belief that there is serious malpractice relating to any of the protected matters specified above may raise a concern under the procedure detailed below. The issues raised under the protected list may relate to another member of staff, a group of staff, the individual’s own Institution or another part of the Academy. Concerns must be raised without malice and in good faith, and the individual must reasonably believe that the information disclosed, and any allegations contained in it, are substantially true. The disclosure must not be made for purposes of personal gain, and in all the circumstances it must be reasonable to make the disclosure. The Academy will ensure that any member of staff who makes a disclosure in such circumstances will not be penalised or suffer any adverse treatment for doing so. However, a member of staff who does not act in good faith or makes an allegation without having reasonable grounds for believing it to be substantially true, or makes it for purposes of personal gain, or makes it maliciously or vexatiously may be subject to disciplinary proceedings. In view of the protection afforded to a member of staff raising a bona fide concern, it is preferable if that individual puts his/her name to any disclosure. The identity of the person raising the matter will be kept confidential, if so requested, for as long as possible provided that this is compatible with a proper investigation. Anonymous complaints are not covered by this procedure, but may be reported, investigated or acted upon as the person receiving the complaint sees fit (including the use of this procedure), having regard to the seriousness of the issue raised, the credibility of the complaint, the prospects of being able to investigate the matter, and fairness to any individual mentioned in the complaint.
There are two important principles underlying this policy:
This means that, as far as possible, formal processes and existing communication and management channels should be used for reporting malpractice, especially where these are defined by another code of practice. If they are not so defined, the matter causing concern should normally be raised with the relevant head of department or line manager. However, it is recognised that there may be occasions when an individual does not feel able to act on this advice, for example where the person believed to be indulging in malpractice is in some position of authority or seniority over him or her.
This situation might occur for three distinct reasons:
This code is intended to embrace all of these. The approach which should be taken will depend on whether the matter of concern relates to financial matters or to other matters.
The Finance Officer is responsible for the proper conduct of the financial affairs of the Academy and concerns about the financial conduct of an individual should normally be made to him / her. If, however, the person expressing a concern deems it more appropriate, the matter may be raised with the Director/Vice Director. If the matter is raised with the Finance Officer, they will inform the Director and outline what is being done to investigate the matter. The Director will seek the assistance of the Internal Audit service in investigating expressions of concern wherever necessary. Although the person expressing a concern might feel that they should approach the Internal Audit service direct, this will not normally be appropriate. This is because it would not normally be possible for the Internal Audit service to investigate a matter without first referring to the relevant senior staff member for guidance, and informing the Director if he is not the relevant manager.
Concerns about non-financial issues should be raised, as the person expressing a concern deems appropriate, with the line manager in the relevant area. In particularly serious cases, the person expressing a concern may feel he or she has to bring a matter directly to the attention of a very senior officer such as the Director. The Academy is clear, and supports the view, that staff have a right to contact senior officers directly if they think it appropriate.
A member of staff who invokes this policy will be initiating a formal process, and he / she will need to understand that the manner in which a complaint is pursued and investigated will not be under his / her control, although the individual’s views and personal position will be taken into account. Subject to the comments on anonymous reports, malpractice will be taken seriously and will be investigated. Any investigation will be conducted as sensitively and speedily as possible. The employee will be notified of the intended timetable for the investigation. The person to whom the disclosure is made may authorise an initial investigation to establish the relevant facts. The investigation may be conducted by the internal auditor in the case of a financial irregularity, or by another person. The investigator will report his / her findings to the person to whom the disclosure was made, who will then decide if there is a case to answer and what procedure to follow. This may include taking steps with the competent authority to set up a special internal independent investigation or reference to some external authority. Such authorities include the Police and the General Medical Council, but usually a preliminary internal investigation will first be necessary. The decision may be that the matter would be more appropriately handled under existing procedures for grievance, bullying and harassment, or discipline.
Where disclosure is made the person or persons against whom it is made will be informed at an early stage, and the evidence supporting the claim will be made available them. They will be subsequently allowed to respond. The individual making the disclosure will be informed of what action is to be taken. Should an investigation or referral lead the appropriate authority to conclude there has been a breach of Academy discipline, the member(s) of staff responsible may, in addition to any civil or criminal proceedings, be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the appropriate disciplinary procedures for the relevant category of staff.
In cases where the recipient believes that he / she is best placed to investigate the matter raised, rather than investigation being delegated, then he / she should inform a senior officer, normally the Academy Secretary or the Director, of the complaint and the intention to investigate it, and should request that senior officer to be prepared to reach a decision in the light of the investigation.
An official written record will be kept of each stage of the procedure. This record should be signed and dated by the Investigating Officer and the person who made the disclosure. Where appropriate, the formal record will not need to identify the person making the disclosure, but in such a case that person will be required to sign a document confirming that the complaint has been investigated. Such reports will normally be retained for at least five years. In all cases a report of the outcome will be made to the Director, who will refer to the report if necessary.
Recipients of reports of malpractice under this code will take them seriously. Their attitude will be one of accepting, prima facie, that the person expressing a concern genuinely believes that a problem exists, and that, if the individual has bypassed the normal line management structure, they may have had good reason to do so. This will require the recipient to record both the receipt of an expression of concern and what subsequent action was taken. The recipient will, after investigation, prepare a report on the action taken for the Academy Secretary or Director according to the nature of the concern raised. Individuals should therefore feel confident that a report of malpractice will be taken seriously and properly investigated, and that they will not suffer any criticism or disadvantage for raising concerns genuinely held, even if they prove to be unfounded.
The Academy acknowledges the difficult choice a member of staff may have to make in raising a concern. As the issues that prompt the concern are likely to be complex, how the member of staff proceeds with his or her concern will vary from situation to situation.
The following advice is recommended if a member of staff wishes to make a disclosure:
Members of staff may also wish to seek independent legal advice.
Against this background, it will not normally be necessary for individuals to raise matters anonymously. Whilst evidence presented anonymously will be treated seriously and investigated as far as is practicable and as seems warranted by the information provided, anonymous reports are not covered by this policy because it will usually be very difficult to investigate them effectively. Wholly anonymous allegations unsupported by any evidence will not normally be pursued. The confidentiality of staff reporting malpractice will be guaranteed up to the point where a formal investigation is launched. Thereafter, every effort will be made to respect confidentiality, if sought, although this might in some cases make investigation more difficult. Should the investigation reveal behaviour of a potentially criminal nature or of a very serious internal nature, confidentiality is unlikely to be compatible with full investigation of the matter and/or with prosecution. In such circumstances the Academy will fulfil its obligations under the law, it will not stand in the way of investigations by the police/procurator fiscal, and the person expressing a concern could come under pressure to forego confidentiality as a consequence. The Academy is fully committed to observing the principles of natural justice in its handling of such matters. This applies equally to those about whose actions concerns are expressed as well as those expressing a concern. For this reason, whatever the circumstances, there will come a point in the investigation of an allegation where the person(s), about whom concern has been expressed must be told of the allegation, shown the evidence supporting it and be allowed to comment before the investigation is completed and a report made. It will be a matter of judgement at what point this is necessary, in the light of the circumstances and the need to avoid giving an alleged wrong-doer the opportunity to thwart the enquiry in some way.
Deliberately false or malicious unfounded reports of malpractice are a breach of discipline, and action under the relevant procedure may be taken against the individual concerned.
Academic staff have a legal right to hold and express opinion, to question and test received wisdom, and to present controversial or unpopular points of view, without placing in jeopardy the appointments they hold or any entitlement or privileges. Disagreements on matters of academic judgement are not uncommon, and on occasion these can manifest themselves as deep divisions between colleagues who strongly hold opposing views. In implementing this policy, the Academy will take care to ensure that it is not abused by one or more parties to a disagreement on a matter of academic judgement: the holding of academic views contrary to those of another individual is not malpractice. Any such views must be articulated in a fully professional manner. Staff are encouraged to speak freely, and without being subject to disciplinary action, about academic standards and related matters, provided that they do so lawfully, without malice, in the public interest, and with due regard to the accepted need for confidentiality in respect of individuals in an academic environment.
The Academy accepts that it has an obligation to ensure that staff who make a disclosure without malice and in good faith are protected, regardless of whether or not the concern raised is upheld. A member of staff who has made a disclosure and who feels that, as a result, he or she has suffered adverse treatment should submit a formal complaint under the grievance procedure as set out in the relevant staff handbook detailing what has been done to him or her. If it appears that there are reasonable grounds for making the complaint, the onus will be on the person against whom the complaint of adverse treatment has been made to show that the actions complained of were not taken in retaliation for the disclosure. Where it is determined that there is a prima facie case that a member of staff has suffered adverse treatment, harassment or victimisation as a result of his or her disclosure, a further investigation may take place and disciplinary action may be taken against the perpetrator in accordance with the relevant procedure.
An effective policy for the reporting and investigation of malpractice should make it very rare for an individual to conclude that they must raise a matter outwith the Academy. Other than in exceptional circumstances, all concerns should be raised internally in the first instance. However, if having exhausted this procedure, a member of staff is not satisfied with the Academy’s response and reasonably believes that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true, he / she is at liberty to take the matter further by raising it with certain bodies or persons such as:
A member of staff who makes an external complaint in good faith to any prescribed body or person after exhausting the Academy’s procedure will be protected against victimisation or other adverse treatment.