Catholic Care loses Charity Tribunal appeal

Children's charity sought to discriminate against gay couples wishing to adopt

Children's charity Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) has lost its appeal to the Charity Tribunal
against the Charity Commission's refusal to allow it to change its objects to allow its adoption service to discriminate against homosexual parents.

The charity wanted to take advantage of an exemption in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 that permits charities to discriminate on the grounds of "the provisions of a charitable instrument", such as a governing document.

But in its first ever final judgement, the tribunal's panel of three legal members, led by president Alison McKenna, concluded that Catholic Care would infringe other provisions in the regulations if it discriminated against homosexual parents and would therefore be operating unlawfully.

The tribunal's ruling says Catholic Care failed to act on the tribunal's suggestion in its preliminary judgement
in March to confine its adoption work to purely 'charitable' activities, which would have allowed it to make use of the charitable exemption without infringing the other provisions that apply to 'public' activities.

The tribunal did not seriously consider whether the charity's ability to discriminate would still see it able to pass the public benefit test. But the ruling says it would be unlikely "given that the proposed alteration of the appellant's objects arose substantially out of a desire to maintain a principled stance, rather than being specifically designed to advance the appellant's charitable purpose".

Mark Wiggin, chief executive of Catholic Care, said he was disappointed by the judgement because the preliminary hearing had given him hope that the charity had a good case. "I feel there has been a turnaround," he said. "I wouldn't have gone into the final hearing unless I thought we were on good legal grounds."

Wiggin said the charity needed time to absorb the judgement before deciding whether to appeal to the High Court, which it must do within 28 days.

The tribunal also criticised the commission for announcing that it intended to appeal against the tribunal's preliminary verdict to the High Court without obtaining the tribunal's permission or informing Catholic Care.

It said it was worried the measure was "a tactical manoeuvre, inevitably raising in the mind of any appellant the spectre of unaffordable parallel proceedings and thus likely to lead to the discontinuation of proceedings before the tribunal". The commission's barrister said the appeal had been lodged only so that it would not be disqualified later because too much time had elapsed since the preliminary judgement.

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