Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Monday, October 22, 2012

We welcome public inquiry into Johanna Hernandez allegations and new Whistleblower law

  ‘Our society cannot make progress by sweeping difficult issues under the carpet,’ Equality Rights group (GGR) has said in a press statement following the announcement of a Government open inquiry into allegations of malpractice at the Dr Giraldi Home by ex-Manager Johanna Hernandez.

‘This matter has been traumatic for both the individuals concerned and for Gibraltar in general. It is good to see Government setting up an open, public inquiry into the matter through the services of an independent judge. We therefore heartily welcome the process as a step forward in our road towards a more fully participatory democratic society,’ the statement continued.

‘Alongside this development, it is also right for us to recognise and welcome the recent introduction of what is known as ‘Whistleblower’ legislation. Having closely studied the provisions of the Employment (Public Interest Disclosure) Act 2012, it is appropriate for this group to again welcome the new provisions as an advance in bringing forth a healthier social and political environment for our country, wherein individuals with serious concerns will be given the opportunity to raise alarms over perceived malpractice.

‘As a human and civil rights organisation, however, we are concerned that the Act falls short in certain areas. In particular, and of greatest importance, is that, although an individual may whistle blow by presenting their concerns to the Minister for Employment at his offices in the ETB, the provisions do not appear to obligate Government to institute any sort of open public inquiry into any allegations. Mechanisms should be announced which would leave the independence and investigatory nature of the process beyond any doubt at all, and perhaps this may best be handled via the offices of the Ombudsman who should receive notification. At the moment, while the new law allows allegations to be made safely without risk to the individual’s employment status, there appear to be no clear guarantees that any action at all would arise. In light of this situation, Government would be wise to take steps to clearly and publicly delineate the procedures which would safeguard against any possibility that allegations made under the Act are not merely silently received and  ‘shelved’ by a Minister.

‘Furthermore, the introduction of this Act brings up questions related to the Official Secrets Act’s (OFA) operations in conjunction with the new legal provisions and which have been the subject of GGR’s submission at Command stage but for which we have had no feedback. Particularly since it is unclear whether the version of the OFA is as outdated as the government Laws of Gibraltar service online suggests – that is, the 1939 version, whereas modernisation occurred in the UK as far back as 1989 to take into account social change over the period. In this regard, it is perhaps the right moment for the Ministry of Justice to look into the status of that particular legislation and, as necessary, bring it up to the relevant modern standards, as has happened in the UK. Clarification on the situation of civil servants in the interface between the new disclosure legislation and the OFA would assist in the greater transparency we are all seeking.’