Accountancy lawmaker to table private bill to protect whistleblowers from civil liability

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Accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung from the Professional Commons is planning to table a private member’s bill when the new LegCo session begins, to protect whistleblowing in the public interest from civil liability.

Currently, the Employment Ordinance states that, ‘an employer shall not dismiss an employee by reason of his giving evidence or information in any proceedings and inquiry in connection with the enforcement of the Employment Ordinance, work accidents or breach of work safety legislation’. The ordinance also protects the rights of employees to take part in trade union activities. Yet, current laws do not protect whistleblowers from civil liability, such as breaking a confidential agreement.

“The current legislation can only protect individuals in a piecemeal fashion,” said Leung. “This bill will protect employees who reveal information in the public interest that expose immoral behaviour to the public.”

International standard

Named the Public Interest Disclosure Bill, the law will aim to protect individuals who make certain disclosures of information in the public interest, and allow such individuals to be exempted from civil liability in making a qualifying disclosure.

“The courts will judge whether the information revealed by whistle-blowers is in the public interest,” said the legislator. “There are already examples in the UK and the US.”

Leung said the bill will focus primarily on issues between employers and their staff and that it is necessary to allow Hong Kong to catch up with international practices, as the US and UK have already implemented similar laws. He added that his bill would draw references from the current Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 from the UK.

Will CY sign it?

The Accountancy lawmaker said a draft of the bill has been completed and he will consult with different stakeholders before tabling it when the new legislative session begins next week.  

Legislative Council rules of procedure require a member’s bill to have the written consent of the chief executive, and approval from the President of LegCo that the bill does not relate to public expenditure or political structure or the operation of the Government, before it can be tabled in the chamber. It must gain majority support from both geographical and functional constituencies to pass.

In 2013, Labour Party’s Cyd Ho Sau-lan, proposed whistleblower protection legislation which would protect individuals from retaliation for uncovering malpractices of the government or public organisations in the public interest. The proposal did not receive sufficient support.

“I suspect I might not receive support from the Government on this bill,” said Leung.