Catholic Care angry at cost of Charity Tribunal case

Adoption charity doubts that it is quicker and cheaper than the High Court

The charity that had its appeal rejected by the Charity Tribunal in its first final ruling last week has complained about the cost of mounting the case.

Mark Wiggin, chief executive of Catholic Care, said the tribunal had not lived up to its billing as a quicker and cheaper appeal route than the High Court. He said the charity needed two barristers and five solicitors to deal with a case that became even more complex when the Equality and Human Rights Commission was permitted to intervene. "The costs are prohibitive for most people; it has made a big dent in our reserves," he told Third Sector.

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) wanted to use an exemption in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 that allows charities to discriminate if their constitutions permit it. The tribunal upheld the commission's rejection of the charity's application to change its objects so that its adoption arm could exclude gay couples from adopting.

The tribunal had rejected the commission's reasoning at a preliminary ruling in March. Although the commission's decision has been confirmed, it is still considering an appeal against that preliminary judgement.

The case took 25 weeks, which is within the tribunal's target of 30 weeks. But Catholic Care's solicitor, Benjamin James of Bircham Dyson Bell, said it could have been much quicker.

"The tribunal is resourced for 50 cases a year, but there were only two before it at the time, which makes it hard to understand why there were such considerable delays," he said.

He said the charity had several grounds for an appeal to the High Court because the ruling had not addressed a number of key points made by its barrister.

Charity lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer Andrew Phillips, who was a prime mover behind failed attempts to insert a clause into the Charities Act 2006 establishing a 'suitor's fund' to help charities meet the costs of using the tribunal, said the high cost was totally predictable. "You are as much in the hands of lawyers as you would be in the High Court," he said.

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