The complex schedule in charity law that says which actions and decisions of the Charity Commission can be the subject of appeals to the charity tribunal should be abolished, says Lord Hodgson’s review of the Charities Act 2006.
The schedule has been criticised for being too complicated and for restricting access to the tribunal as the commission, with its more focused approach to regulation, makes less use of the legal powers described in the schedule, Hodgson says.
But he stops short of advocating access to the tribunal over any action or decision of the commission, saying this might create an unmanageable number of appeals and undermine the commission’s authority to use its powers independently.
Instead he proposes a system which would allow a right of review of any commission decision or action, which would consider whether it was properly executed, and a right of appeal against any legal decision, which would consider the substance of a decision.
This would create a simple and comprehensible system, says Hodgson, that should be accessible to the charity concerned, its trustees or any other person affected. The time limit for appeals to the tribunal, which was created by the 2006 Act, should be extended from 42 days to four months.
Hodgson also recommends transferring from the commission to the tribunal the power to decide whether it is appropriate for trustees to use charitable funds to pay for legal action. The commission should also be allowed to refer matters of charity law to the tribunal without the consent of the Attorney-General, he says, and the tribunal should look at ways of speeding up and simplifying its proceedings and consider plain English summaries of its decisions.
"Overall, the tribunal has made a reasonable start against its aims," the review says. "There are signs of further progress – for example, in increased numbers of litigants in person feeling confident enough to bring cases."
The review rejects the case for setting up a charities ombudsman, and calls for individual charities to adopt and publish internal procedures for disputes and complaints.