Almost a year has passed since I was appointed president of the newly formed Charity Tribunal. In that time, we have put together a panel and started hearing our first cases. I have also tried to get out and about to make sure charities know we are a service they can use.
The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 is replacing the random patchwork of separate tribunals with two new tribunals: the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. The Charity Tribunal will transfer to this new structure in the autumn, becoming part of the First-tier Tribunal along with other tribunals that hear appeals from regulatory bodies.
These changes will not affect the Charity Tribunal's jurisdiction or the experience of its users. Charities will still have their cases heard by specialists in their sector, and the Attorney General will still be able to refer questions of charity law to the tribunal and intervene in individual appeals if that is deemed necessary.
The key difference for charities is that the Upper Tribunal can hear appeals without them having to go to the High Court. This will keep costs down and provide an opportunity to fast-track cases of importance to the sector as a whole. Allowing points of charity law to be decided in the Upper Tribunal by seconded High Court judges will also mean test cases can be decided more quickly and cost- effectively than at present, because the tribunal procedures are designed to be flexible and user-friendly.
Charities should have a say in how we develop, so I would like to draw attention to a forthcoming consultation on the new rules. To see the consultation document, please visit www.tribunal.gov.uk/tribunals/rules/rules.htm. For more on the Charity Tribunal, see www.charity.tribunals.gov.uk.