Charitable benevolent funds are not affected by the requirement in the Charities Act 2006 that all charities must provide a public benefit, the Attorney-General's lawyer has argued.
Will Henderson, the lawyer representing Dominic Grieve, was speaking at the opening session of a three-day Upper Tribunal hearing on benevolent funds and public benefit.
He said the 2006 act, which says all charities must show they provide a public benefit, had not changed the law in relation to benevolent funds.
The hearing, being held in London, will determine whether and in what way benevolent funds, which support people who are linked to a particular individual, company or industry, are affected by the public benefit requirement.
The case is being heard because Grieve asked the tribunal to rule on the issue, saying it was an area of legal uncertainty.
The Henry Smith Charity, the Chartered Accountants' Benevolent Association and the Professional Footballers' Association Benevolent Fund are among the charities represented at the hearing, on the grounds that it might affect their work. If the tribunal rules that they must benefit a wider group than they do at present, the charities will have to change their objects to do this.
"Almost all of us are pushing in the same direction in terms of the answer we would like to see from the tribunal," said Henderson. "The Attorney-General, as the defender of charity, will submit that the 2006 act has not changed the law."
Henderson said comments made by the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was third sector minister when the act was passed, that all charities would have to show a public benefit, did not necessarily mean benevolent funds would have to widen their group of beneficiaries.
"One sees this at its most extreme with the animal charities," he said. "There is no direct class of human beneficiary who will receive those funds. The benefit is solely an indirect or wider benefit to the public as a whole from the prevention of animal cruelty." He said benevolent funds provided indirect benefits to society because they promoted the altruistic act of helping those in need.
Henderson said the Charity Commission, due to make its case to the judges later in the hearing, would be the main party arguing against his case.
He said HM Revenue & Customs was "the party that might be thought to have the greatest interest" in arguing against his case, but that it had not joined as a party to the case.
The case is being heard by Justice Nicholas Warren and Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal. It is due to last until 17 November.