Tribunal rejects appeal on registration of three Jewish charities

A group called Stop the JNF had asked the Charity Commission to remove the charities from its register, to no avail, and its latest attempt to appeal has been rejected

The Upper Tier Tribunal has rejected an appeal against a Charity Commission decision to keep three Jewish charities on its register because it found the claimant was not affected by the decision.

The ruling, published this week, upheld a ruling by the first tier charity tribunal in August 2014. This said that John Nicholson could not seek to reverse a commission decision not to remove the pro-Israel charity the Jewish National Fund Charitable Trust and two affiliated charities, the Jewish National Fund Educational Trust and KKL Charity Accounts, from the register of charities.

Under the Charities Act 2011, only parties that are affected by a commission decision or the Attorney General can appeal against a commission decision.

Upper Tier Judge Sarah Asplin said Nicholson could not be considered to be affected by the commission’s decision simply because he disagreed with it.

The campaign group Stop the JNF asked the Charity Commission to remove the three charities from the register of charities in March 2013, claiming they were racist sham organisations that did not meet the commission’s public benefit requirements.

The JNFCT, which raises funds for causes in Israel and had an income of £13.4m in 2014, rejected the allegations on behalf of all three charities.

Nicholson, a barrister and member of Stop the JNF, appealed to the charity tribunal.  

He was told in 2014 that neither he nor the group could not ask for the decision to be repealed because they were not directly affected by it, with Judge Alison McKenna ruling the appellants had not shown that they had suffered any disadvantage or had their rights infringed as a result of the decision.

But McKenna allowed the appeal to the Upper Tier Tribunal to go ahead on the basis that she had not considered Nicholson’s argument that he was affected by the commission’s decision because the commission addressed some of its correspondence on the decision to him.

But Asplin rejected this argument, a ruling dated last month shows.

In the ruling, she said: "An administrative step taken by the commission as a result of which a person becomes an addressee can hardly have the effect of bringing a recipient of a decision within the relevant category of persons with the status to appeal."

She said she agreed with McKenna’s earlier decision that only those whose legal rights had been affected could appeal against a commission decision.

"It is insufficient that he disagrees with the decision emotionally, politically or intellectually and, as a result, is affected emotionally and/or socially, however sincere his concerns," she said.

Asplin said that if parliament had intended that everyone who was interested or concerned about a commission decision and had received a copy of it should be able to appeal, it would have worded the Charities Act differently.

Chris Willis Pickup, head of litigation at the Charity Commission, said the ruling set an important precedent.

"The Upper Tribunal has agreed with us that individuals cannot challenge a charity’s registration just because they are interested in the charity, oppose it politically, pay tax or have corresponded with the commission," he said.

"This judgment rightly makes it clear that decisions on registration are primarily for us as the charity regulator and it sets a high threshold for individuals to be able to challenge charitable status.

"Even an unsuccessful challenge has significant consequences, including suspension of the charity’s entry in the register of charities.

"This can cause problems with donors, beneficiaries and applications for tax reliefs."

Third Sector was unable to contact Nicholson or Stop the JNF for comment.

No one from the JNFCT was available to comment.

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