I dreamed of organizing an international conference on the protection of whistleblowers since 2015. Such a desire was also driven by the idea of paying a special tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia and the other 1342 journalists killed from 1992 to 2019 for motives directly related to their investigations, as well as to all whistleblowers and leakers that have greatly suffered for being courageous enough to unveil the truth. Eventually, I was finally given the tremendous honour of acting as the scientific coordinator and co-organiser of the International Conference “Whistleblowers: Voices of Justice”, which was held in London on the 10th of May 2019.
The event was co-organised with Prof. Panagiotis Andrikopoulos (Coventry University), Mary Inman (Constantine Cannon LLP), Georgina Halford-Hall (WhistleblowersUK), and David Pelled (MLROs.Com). It was a successful event with more than 100 fantastic people that participated in an enlightening day of discussion and contributed, in such a way, towards changing the world for the better. The event was co-sponsored by Coventry University (CFCI), Constantine Cannon LLP, and Ascheri Academy.
The conference brought together, from the United Kingdom and overseas, academics, politicians, enforcement officials, white-collar defence lawyers, investigative journalists, and whistleblowers for an exciting day of discussion of the intimate connection between crime reporting and whistleblowing within both the private and public sector. The conference was inspired by the mounting awareness of the circumstance that corrupt and fraudulent practices in both the private and public sector can cause a great deal of harm to the social texture, economy, or environment of a country. Such illicit conducts can also lead to irreversible damaging consequences to the reputation of the involved company, whereas within the public domain they may generate betrayals of trust and dismantle the very ideals on which our communities are founded.
Over the latest two decades, it has emerged that, on the one hand, external and internal auditors and compliance officers often struggle to unveil illicit behaviours occurring within the supervised private or public institutions and, on the other, a multitude of serious allegations of corporate misconduct come to light only thanks to the extraordinary courage and profound sense of justice of individual whistleblowers. As a result, it is now evident that the adoption of measures to encourage the reporting of corporate criminal behaviours and protect the individuals that take grave risks to unveil such misconducts play a crucial role in safeguarding the public interest and in fostering a culture of integrity and accountability in both corporations and public institutions.
The event, which was held under the honorary patronages of both The Law Society and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing, enjoyed an inspiring opening keynote speech given by Rt Hon. Baroness Susan Veronica Kramer – a British Liberal Democrat politician, Member of the House of Lords. In 2013 Baroness Kramer was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Transport, role that she held until 2015. Baroness Kramer currently serves as the Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing. The clear political message left on the APPG website is emblematic of her commitment to the cause: “We need whistleblowers and we need to treasure them, because they are important witness of the truth.”
The conference work was organised through four sessions. The first panel, “Extra‐European Perspectives on Whistleblowing”, was moderated by Prof Peter Alldridge, who is Professor of Law of Economic Crime at Queen Mary, University of London. The panel explored some of the most complex issues related to corporate crime reporting that have emerged in and innovative approaches to whistleblowing that have been adopted by Extra‐European jurisdictions. Specifically, the panellists will cover topical issues such as the crucial role played by whistleblowers in unveiling economic crime where offshore financial centres are involved; the increasingly extensive use of whistleblower rewards; and the fierce political debate on the potential impact of secrecy laws on whistleblowers. The panellists gave the following presentations: Prof. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine – “Whistleblowing – Offshore Issues and Beyond – A Perspective from the Caribbean”; Kieran Pender – “Official Secrecy Laws and Government Employee Free Speech: Three Pieces of the Same Puzzle? An Australian Perspective”; Melanie Devoe – “Overview of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Whistleblower Program”; Mary Inman – “Whistleblowing – the Next Frontier: expansion of the U.S. whistleblower reward programs globally”.
The second panel was moderated by Prof Samuel Buell, who is Bernard M. Fishman Professor of Criminal Law at Duke University. The panel focused on “UK and European Perspectives on Whistleblowing.” Over the course of the latest years, Europeans have been badly shaken by the scale of political and corporate corruption that has been unveiled by the Panama Papers, Bahama Leaks, and Paradise Papers scandals. Such leaks have stimulated an intense discussion on whistleblowing and corporate crime reporting all over the continent, and many new legal instruments have been developed in several jurisdictions. As a result, this panel explored some of these recent approaches to whistleblowing both at the domestic and the European Union level. In particular, I had the privilege to illustrate the pros and cons of the adoption of the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 2018/0106 (COD) on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law. The panellists gave the following presentations: Alison Lui – “Fear, futility and frustration: Concerns of UK whistle-blowers in finance”; Costantino Grasso – “Towards a harmonized European legal framework for the protection of whistleblowers”; Fabio Coppola – “The ethical dilemma of Whistleblowers within the Italian legal environment”.
The third panel was moderated by Prof Mark Button, who is Director and founder of the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at the University of Portsmouth. The panel dealt with “Select Issues on Whistleblowing.” As a matter of fact, whistleblowing and corporate crime reporting represent just a single aspect of the complex and multifaceted economic and corporate crime scenarios. Consequently, the panel explored the most intriguing interconnections between the key role played by whistleblowers and other crucial aspects of financial delinquency. In particular, the panellists covered burning issues such as the criminalisation of whistleblowers; and the most innovative organisational solutions that can be adopted to establish effective whistleblowing arrangements. The panellists gave the following presentations: Wim Vandekerckhove – “Is there a need for an international standard on whistleblowing management systems?”; Lorenzo Pasculli – “The unheard whistle. The case of the corruption scandal in the Australian financial sector”; Naomi Colvin – “Whistleblowing after the WikiLeaks Revolutions”; Donato Vozza – “When the State keeps it on the hush: The unethical punishment of whistleblowers”.
The fourth panel was moderated by Georgina Halford-Hall, who is CEO & Founder of WhistleblowersUK. This innovative and breakthrough panel was entirely devoted to narrating some of the most intriguing and dramatic whistleblowers’ stories. The panellists, who were individuals directly or closely involved in the events, offered a vivid recollection of the misconducts illustrating the corrupt mechanics that allowed the occurrence of the criminal activities, the difficulties they encountered in unveiling the truth, the consequences they faced for their moral courage as well as the corporate, civil society, and government’s responses to their brave actions. The panellists gave the following presentations: John Christensen – “Diary of a Traitor: Blowing the Whistle on Tax Haven Jersey”; Mark Lillie – “The Whistleblower’s Dilemma – Beyond Qui Tam”; Martin Woods – “Blowing the whistle as a call for help: An analysis of the collective failure to assist whistleblowers and correct wrongdoings.”; Martin Bright – “The story of a leak: Changing the world for the better through voluntary disclosures of classified information”.
Prof Heather McLaughlin, who is the Academic Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law at Coventry University and specialised in international business, finance and logistics, gave her inspiring conference closing remarks. It was the best possible conclusion of an intense and exciting day of discussion.
Finally, I would like to thank Springer International, which is the internationally renowned publisher that has accepted to produce an edited volume that will focus, inter alia, on the topics illustrated during the conference and that will be released around April 2020. This book will assure that this event will leave a legacy to future researchers, politicians, practitioners, and member of the civil society. I look forward to reading the amazing and inspiring chapters that will be included in this work.