Charity tribunal decision paves way for registration of Independent Press Regulation Trust

The tribunal overturns the Charity Commission's refusal of charitable status to the trust, which was set up to assist a new press standards regulator

The charity tribunal
The charity tribunal

The charity tribunal has overturned a decision by the Charity Commission to refuse charitable status to a trust set up to provide financial and other assistance to a new press standards regulator.

The Independent Press Regulation Trust intends to support a regulator that is compliant with the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, and has identified the Impress Project, a group of writers, academics and philanthropists that is seeking to create a Leveson-compliant regulator, as a likely recipient of its backing.

The IPRT’s application for charitable status was first rejected by the commission on 7 May 2014. Its trustees requested a review of this decision and in October the commission published its decision review document, which reaffirmed the decision not to register.

The trustees appealed against this decision at the charity tribunal, and a two-day hearing took place in London in mid-May.

In a judgment confirmed on Monday but not yet published online, the tribunal said that the appeal had been successful and the trust should be put on the commission’s register of charities.

In rejecting the IPRT’s application for charitable status, the commission said it would not be able to judge whether a regulator supported by the IPRT would be Leveson-compliant, since the Press Recognition Panel, established by royal charter after the Leveson inquiry, had yet to begin recognising regulators.

The Press Recognition Panel is consulting on its approach to assessing applications for recognition, and a spokeswoman said it hoped to begin assessing these in the autumn.

The tribunal said this was not itself a barrier to charitable status, because the IPRT could support regulators other than the Impress Project. Its decision says: "We do not see the success or otherwise of Impress itself as a question that should determine the charitable status of IPRT."

The judgment, seen by Third Sector, shows that the tribunal accepted the IPRT’s purposes were analogous to charitable purposes created under legislation passed before the Charities Act 2011 – namely, promoting the ethical and moral improvement of the community. But it rejected the argument that its purposes were analogous to other pre-2011 purposes, such as the maintenance of proper standards in the medical profession.

The tribunal decision ends by saying that if a press regulator cannot be established by government, and ought not be established by the media industry itself, "the charity sector is uniquely placed to be able to offer both the mechanism and the means by which a benefit to the community as a whole can be achieved".

Wilfrid Vernor-Miles, one of the three trustees of the IPRT, told Third Sector: "The trustees are waiting for confirmation of registration and will then hold a meeting about the charity’s future management and operation."

A spokeswoman for the commission said the regulator was considering the judgment, but could not say whether this meant it would accept it or would consider appealing.

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