Outcome of Cage affair 'should give lawmakers pause for thought', says Ben Jackson of Bond

The chief executive of the umbrella group says MPs should stop to consider whether proposed new powers for the Charity Commission are justified and proportionate

Ben Jackson
Ben Jackson

The outcome of the advocacy group Cage’s judicial review of a Charity Commission action should give lawmakers "strong pause for thought" about giving the regulator more powers through the charities bill, according to Ben Jackson, chief executive of the umbrella group Bond.

Cage brought the case in the Royal Courts of Justice after the commission asked its charitable backers, including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, to promise they would never offer Cage funding again.

Cage had said at a press conference that the British-born Mohammed Emwazi, allegedly the Isis executioner known as "Jihadi John", had been a "beautiful young man".

Cage withdrew its judicial review claim in court yesterday after the commission agreed to acknowledge it had no power to permanently ban a charity from giving funds to a particular group.

Jackson, whose organisation represents 460 international development charities, said the settlement "has far-reaching implications for the good regulation of charities way beyond the specific issues and organisations in this case". 

The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, which is awaiting its second reading in parliament, would give the commission new powers to disqualify people in some circumstances from being charity trustees or senior managers for up to 15 years, to issue statutory warnings and to wind up charities after investigation.

Jackson said: "At a time when the Charity Commission is seeking yet more powers from parliament, this outcome should give lawmakers strong pause for thought.

"As they consider new legislation in the coming period, MPs now need to ensure that any new proposed powers are really justified and proportionate, and that the proper checks and balances are in place to ensure the Charity Commission is accountable, objective and transparent in exercising its powers."

Sir Stephen Bubb, the chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, agreed.

Bubb said: "For the Charity Commission to have assumed as general principle it had omnipotence over the future was quite extraordinary. It over-reached itself and now needs to reflect.

"This case was critical for the protection of the rights of charities to exercise their proper judgement now and in the future. It means charities may continue to operate without fearfully looking over their shoulder to see if they are crossing a line arbitrarily drawn by the commission.

"The outcome of this case sends a cautionary message to all those reflecting on the future regulation of charities."

The judge overseeing the trial, the Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, criticised the use of public and charitable funds on the review, saying greater communication between the two sides could have prevented it from reaching court.

In its statement made after the withdrawal of the case, a commission spokeswoman said it regretted that the judicial process had been dragged out.

Bubb said: "For the commission to bewail the costs involved with this case is ungracious. It could have revised its position at any time before the implementation and during prosecution of proceedings. It chose not to. That is why the money was spent. No regulator can assume a doctrine of papal infallibility and must be subject to challenge when it gets things wrong."

Sir Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the case had provided useful clarification and a welcome recognition of the independence of charity trustees.

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