Chancery Bar Association to review pro bono information

Charity tribunal applicant says assistance takes too long

The Chancery Bar Association Pro Bono Unit has promised to review the information that is made available to applicants to the charity tribunal after a recent appellant said he found it hard to get expert assistance early enough in the process.

Lennox Ryan represented himself during an appeal against the Charity Commission's decision to rubber-stamp his local council's scheme to remedy the unlawful sale of charitable parkland in Dartford, Kent.

Ryan told Third Sector he would not have wanted legal representation during the hearing, but would have liked to have some help in completing his notice of appeal and assessing the merits of his case before submission.

Notices have to be submitted to the tribunal within 42 days of a final decision by the Charity Commission. The Chancery Bar Association's Bar Pro Bono Unit takes 21 days to allocate a lawyer to a case. Appellants are supposed to be referred to the unit by a Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. Ryan applied in person because he didn't have enough time.

Ryan was allocated a lawyer, but when he was unable to contact the lawyer he gave up and completed the appeals notice himself.

"I learned many things during the hearing that it would have been helpful to know earlier," he said. "But we were given a very good hearing and everyone was very helpful."

Michael Todd QC, chair of the Chancery Bar Association, said the 21-day notice period was necessary to ensure the Pro Bono Unit's limited resources were directed to the most deserving cases. He said deserving applicants could apply to the tribunal for time extensions.

"We shall be reviewing the information available to the public to ensure that potential applicants for assistance are not deterred by any perceived inaccessibility of the scheme," said Todd.

Commission volte-face

The Charity Commission has reversed its decision not to lift an order restricting payments from the bank account of a London Aids charity, after the charity lodged an appeal to the charity tribunal.

The restriction order was imposed on African Aids Action as part of a formal commission inquiry that ended recently. A spokeswoman for the regulator said she was unable to give details on the report until it was published. Trustees of African Aids Action were due to meet last weekend. The charity's chair, Eyob Ghebre-Sellassie, said it might want to challenge the commission's reasons for its initial refusal.

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