Legal Diary: Tory MP Sir Edward Garnier and the 'aggressive' claim

Plus: when is a charity Islamic? And the tribunal application that time forgot

Sir Edward Garnier QC
Sir Edward Garnier QC

With the future of its regulation at stake, the sector expected nothing less than robust debate during the passage through parliament of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill.

So Legal Diary was a bit surprised to hear shadow civil society minister Anna Turley labelled "aggressive" by the Conservative MP Sir Edward Garnier QC when she defended charities' right to campaign at the bill's third reading in the Commons. The former Solicitor General was, after all, also an opponent of parts of the bill. But then he is also a smooth and impeccably courteous lawyer. Aggressive? Not he.

But would a male MP, one wonders, have received the same ticking off from Garnier? Presumably the owners of male voices in the braying cacophony at Prime Minister's Questions are simply being "assertive".

So when is a charity Islamic?

With extremism high on the agenda, the Charity Commission does not want to be seen as discriminatory and is understandably sensitive about how its investigations of certain charities are reported. Third Sector receives lectures from time to time about how it should describe a charity as Muslim only if it lists the furtherance of Islam or specifically Muslim beneficiaries in its charitable objects. Fair enough - but it's worth noting that the commission chair, William Shawcross, in a finger-wagging article in The Daily Telegraph last month about how charities must not "abuse our great generosity", described in glowing terms a charity he had recently visited, Mosaic. He pointed out that the charity "mentors young people, mainly Muslims". Unfortunately, the charity's objects don't mention Islam. If Shawcross hasn't had the lecture yet, we can probably pass on to him an email or two from his own staff.

Days out of tribunal time? Hah! Try four years

In the long-running tussle over whether the Charity Commission's inquiry into the Jehovah's Witnesses is just a fishing expedition, the charity's appeal to the tribunal was made too late: it was 210 days out of time. Hah! That's nothing. Another appeal to the tribunal was recently judged to be no less than four years over the 42-day time limit.

This relates to one of the tribunal's first cases, after which the Charity Commission drew up a scheme in 2011 to allow Dartford Borough Council in Kent to lease out Hesketh Park, which the council holds in charitable trust. Last year, the council drew up plans to lease part of the land to a cricket club, using the same scheme - but was met with objections by one of the original complainants, Lennox Ryan, who asked the commission to intervene, and appealed to the tribunal when it declined.

The tribunal judge was having none of it: Judge Jonathan Holbrook ruled that Ryan was actually objecting to the original scheme made four years ago, not the new lease, and dismissed the appeal in three brisk pages.

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