Leaks, Whistleblowing and the Public Interest

Leaks, Whistleblowing and the Public Interest

The Law of Unauthorised Disclosures

Ashley Savage

This book is the first of its kind to provide an in-depth treatment of the law of unauthorised disclosures in the United Kingdom. Drawing upon extensive data obtained using freedom of information as a methodology and examples from comparative jurisdictions, the book considers the position of civil servants, employees of the security and intelligence services and service personnel in the armed forces. It considers the protections available, the consequences of leaking and a full assessment of the authorised alternatives.

Chapter 5: Whistleblowing in the Civil Service

Ashley Savage

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, law - academic, corporate law and governance, corruption and economic crime, labour, employment law, politics and public policy, public policy


Written in 1985, the aforementioned quote, taken from a memo drafted by Sir Robert Armstrong, neatly encapsulates the relationship between civil servants and their political masters. The relationship is one of trust and loyalty. Civil servants are responsible to Ministers who are reliant upon them to action policies which may otherwise be in direct conflict with their own political persuasions. In return, Ministers are answerable to Parliament and to the electorate for any actions taken by their department, ultimately being prepared to take personal responsibility for the actions of civil servants. The Armstrong Memorandum is of historical significance, drafted in response to the outcome of the Ponting trial; it was aimed at reaffirming the duties that civil servants owed to the Crown. Yet Ponting disclosed information on the location of the Argentinean Cruiser the General Belgrano because he felt that government Ministers had failed to keep up their end of the bargain, by misleading Parliament and the electorate. In those circumstances, the civil servant believed that he had a duty to bring the matter to public attention. The relationship between Ministers and their civil servants remains a delicate one to balance. It may be naive to suggest both actors are locked in a constant power play reminiscent of something satirised in the 1980s sitcom Yes Minister, but leaks of official information regularly occur and may be just as likely to originate from Ministers for political gain as their civil servants. Whilst the spirit of the Armstrong Memorandum still holds true today,

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