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Campaigners step up fight for total NDA ban

By John Hyde >>

(17 May 2023)

Justice minister Edward Argar has agreed to meet with MPs campaigning for a blanket ban on non-disclosure agreements.

Conservative Maria Miller and Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat, both spoke in Monday’s second reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, calling for the legislation to include extra provisions outlawing the use of NDAs.

Moran reiterated her call today during justice questions, saying the bill was a ‘golden opportunity to ban [NDAs] once and for all’.

Argar said the government was committed to ensuring that victims are supported in seeking justice through the courts where they choose to do so, and confirmed discussions have been held with ministerial colleagues about the use of NDAs in this context.

He added: ‘The government held a thorough consultation on the misuse of NDAs between workers and their employees, and we are planning our next steps carefully.’

The campaign for legislation to clamp down on non-disclosure agreements has gathered pace in recent years through the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign led by Zelda Perkins. She was an assistant of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s but was prohibited from discussing his behaviour by the terms of an NDA she had signed.

Alongside Canadian law professor and NDA whistle-blower Dr Julie Macfarlane, her campaign launched in 2021 claiming that these agreements are being used by individuals and organisations to silence victims of sexual misconduct, racism and pregnancy discrimination.

The fight gained momentum earlier this year when six university vice-chancellors signed up to a pledge promising not to use NDAs in dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct, bullying, and other forms of harassment.

At the time that Perkins’ campaign started, Miller tabled a 10-minute rule bill in parliament seeking to stop NDAs being used to cover up cases of illegal activity.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, she said ministers should seek to extend the ban from educational settings to wider society. Miller added: ‘When victims of misconduct – often sexual misconduct and usually women – make allegations, an all too frequent response is a settlement in which an employer can see allegations dropped in return for a non-disclosure agreement that will stop the victim from speaking out, sometimes lawfully and sometimes not so much.’

Moran said women from Oxford University in her constituency had approached her saying they had been effectively silenced by NDAs following incidents of rape and sexual abuse. A clause in these agreements, she said, was that the women could lose their place at university if they went public.

Moran added: ‘The point is that non-disclosure agreements should not be banned in one type of institution in this country – the government have conceded that ground – yet still be allowed in other institutions and organisations.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)