Charities 'should pay a levy for a legal fighting fund'

Law professor says 'suitors fund' would pay for appeals against Charity Commission decisions

A fighting fund to help charities take important cases to the courts or the Charity Tribunal should be funded by an annual levy of £10 on all registered charities, according to a pamphlet published this week.

Peter Luxton, professor of law at Cardiff University, says in the pamphlet that this 'suitors fund' would facilitate appeals against the decisions of the Charity Commission and help develop charity law.

Making Law? Parliament v the Charity Commission is published amid concern in legal circles that the cost of taking cases to the Charity Tribunal may be too high for many charities.

The Government refused to back a suitors fund when the Charities Act 2006 was going through Parliament, and the Charity Tribunal is now encouraging lawyers to represent charities free of charge.

Luxton's pamphlet argues that the Charity Commission's approach to how charities should demonstrate their public benefit, as required by the act, is flawed.

"It is the contention of this paper that the commission has become a vehicle by which the Government can pursue its political objectives without the need for legislation," it says. "For the present, even without a suitors fund, charities or groups of charities must be encouraged to challenge the current approach of the commission to public benefit so that case law can establish the true legal position."

The pamphlet, published by right-of-centre think tank Politeia, also argues that there should be more than the current two legally qualified members on the commission board, and one should be full time. Both incumbents are part time.

"A full-time legal appointee would be in a more powerful position to ensure that the commission is applying the law than either part-time appointees (whose involvement is limited) or staff lawyers (who must act as instructed)," says the pamphlet.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it was independent and answerable to the courts, and that the 2006 act said it should not be subject to the direction and control of ministers.

The commission had a very experienced legal team, she said, and Parliament had decided there should not be a suitors fund.

The tribunal was intended to enable the law to be developed at reduced cost.

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