Charity bodies unite in call to protect donors from effects of changes to judicial review legislation

The Association of Charitable Foundations, the Charity Finance Group and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations want charities to be excluded from the proposed changes

High Court
High Court

Three charity umbrella bodies have added their voices to calls for charities to be excluded from proposed changes to judicial review legislation that could result in donors having to pay charities’ legal costs.

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on proposed changes that could mean any charity that wanted to pursue a judicial review but cap its costs in advance through a protective cost order would have to disclose the names, addresses and financial details of all its members, who could then be called upon to pay the costs if the charity were to lose.

The charity chief executives body Acevo said last week that the proposals could amount to a "fundamental breach of justice" if they deterred charities from challenging government decisions.

A joint response to the consultation, which closed yesterday, from the Association of Charitable Foundations, the Charity Finance Group and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations called for the proposals to be amended to exclude charitable donations in line with the existing common-law position, which is that philanthropic donors should not be subject to costs orders.

The response said that including charities would not only go against this pre-existing principle, but would also serve no obvious purpose.

"The administrative burden of disclosing all funders over the suggested threshold of £1,500 would be disproportionately large both for small organisations and organisations, who may have a donor base of hundreds of individuals and organisations," the umbrella bodies said.

The measure would also be "bureaucratically burdensome for judges and costly for the courts service", which would have to acknowledge "a flow of extra, and irrelevant, information", they said. 

The regulations could also inhibit donations to charities that might find themselves considering making judicial review claims, they said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Judicial review is critical in making sure the government and public bodies are abiding by the law, but we also have to ensure the system is not open to abuse.

"It is right that courts know who is funding applications for judicial review, especially when the claimant is arguing that they should be given costs protection. While delivering greater transparency, these reforms don’t affect the rules on when third parties have to pay costs."

He said the government was considering the consultation responses and would set out how it intended to proceed in due course.

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