Protest and confusion at second Charity Tribunal hearing

Sivayogam trustee's barrister complains about conduct of Charity Commission's legal team

The Charity Tribunal's second full hearing has begun with confusion about its role and a protest about the conduct of the Charity Commission's legal team.

Nagendram Seevaratnam is appealing against the commission's order in March last year that he be removed as a trustee of Sivayogam, a Hindu charity that runs a temple serving Tamils in south London. The order came after the commission found him guilty of "mismanagement or misconduct in the administration of a charity".

At the beginning of the final hearing on Monday, Seevaratnam's barrister, Edward Grieves of Garden Court Chambers, who is acting on a pro bono basis, objected to repeated changes in the commission's statement of its reasons for making its decision.

He also criticised the intention of the commission's barrister, Robert Pearce of Radcliffe Chambers, to cross-examine Seevaratnam on alleged links with the Tamil Tigers.

He said it was inappropriate for Pearce to "go fishing" for evidence of serious criminal offences, hoping for Seevaratnam to incriminate himself. He said: "It is unfair and not what this tribunal is about."

Pearce said he had added only some "relatively minor" points to his statement of the commission's case and denied having kept the terrorism questions "up his sleeve".

All the lawyers agreed it was unclear whether the tribunal's task was to examine whether the commission had made the correct decision on the basis of what it knew, or could have known, at the time of making the decision, or whether subsequent events could be taken into account.

Grieves said facts such as the recent defeat of the Tamil Tigers should be taken into account, but would make little practical difference to the way the case was heard.

Alison McKenna, president of the tribunal, said: "It is unfortunate that the task set for the tribunal is unclear in statute."

Seevaratnam's appeal was first lodged over a year ago, but his difficulty in finding affordable legal representation has caused repeated delays.

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