The name qui tam originates from a longer Latin phrase that could be roughly translated into “an individual who prosecutes for himself as well as on behalf of the King.” The concept originates from an era before either common law or democracy even existed. The earliest known example dates to the 695 declaration of King Wihtred of Kent. Under this statute, anyone who reported someone who had broken the rule that prohibited working on the Sabbath would receive one-half of the fine and the profits of the lawbreaker’s labor. By the 14th century, most English Kingdoms had their own “on behalf of the King” provisions. Wihtred and other English monarchs used this early legislation to encourage their subjects to report those in the Kingdom who broke laws or failed to pay tariffs. These reward systems effectively expanded a crown’s ability to enforce its own laws at no additional expense.
As early whistleblowers increased in popularity, they spread outside of England and eventually reached the Americas. A number of statutes existed throughout the United States during colonial times. After a costly Revolutionary War, the first U.S. Congress saw qui tams as a method to enforce the young country’s authority during a period when the newly-born government had few enforcement resources itself.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the most influential and enduring whistleblowing legislations of all time, the False Claims Act (FCA). This act has persisted since its enactment and grown stronger during its 150-year history. It also influenced the creation of other programs with relators provisions, including the IRS Office of the Whistleblower and the SEC Whistleblower Program.