After nearly a year of ‘will they? – won’t they? – and, we hope they don’t’ prosecute whistleblowers for breaching the Official Secrets Act, Chair Lowell Goddard addressed the subject in her opening statement for the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) today, when she clarified that whistleblowers will not be proscecuted under the OSA.
‘One area of concern has been the need to offer whistleblower protection to those who pass evidence to the Inquiry. I am pleased to be able to announce today that we have secured strong legal protection for whistleblowers. Following a process of discussion with the offices of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, an agreement was reached pursuant to which the Attorney General issued an undertaking on 15 June 2015 that no document or evidence provided to the Inquiry will result in, or be used in, any prosecution under the Official Secrets Acts or any prosecution for unlawful possession of the evidence in question. The full terms of the undertaking have been published this morning on the Inquiry’s website. I am satisfied that this undertaking provides the greatest possible protection for whistleblowers, consistent with the requirements of the public interest, and I am grateful to the Attorney General for providing it.’
She also published this letter from the Attorny General;
She went on to speak about security files, saying; ‘there is no obstacle to prevent the Inquiry from having access to even the most sensitive information‘.
‘In the course of its work the Inquiry may need to inspect files held by the security and intelligence services or information held by GCHQ. The statutory powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiries Rules 2006 make special arrangements for the handling of classified material which can be inspected under secure conditions. Where necessary, sensitive or classified information can be made the subject of a notice or order restricting its publication or disclosure, and it can be tested in a closed hearing. So there is no obstacle to prevent the Inquiry from having access to even the most sensitive information. I have been given the necessary levels of security clearance to inspect material held by the agencies, as have members of the Inquiry’s legal team, and I have no reason to doubt that I will receive the full co-operation of the agencies in the provision of the information I need to inspect.
She had previously ‘taken steps to issue retention instructions to a very wide range of institutions in order to put them on notice that the organisations for which they are responsible must preserve all records relating to the care of children by their institution without limit of time so that they remain available for inspection by the Inquiry.’
In her opening statement she explained that the IICSA now had;
‘power to order the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses. A failure to comply with such an order without reasonable excuse is an offence punishable by imprisonment. It is also an offence for a person, during the course of an Inquiry, to destroy, alter or tamper with evidence that may be relevant to an Inquiry, or deliberately to do an act with the intention of suppressing evidence or preventing it being disclosed to the Inquiry. I trust that message will go out loud and clear to all State and non-State institutions, whose actions may fall within the Inquiry’s broad terms of reference.