Charity Commission given permission to appeal to upper tribunal over Ethiopian church charity case

The commission is challenging the charity tribunal ruling that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion can continue its appeal against the opening of a statutory inquiry

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion

The charity tribunal has allowed the Charity Commission to appeal to the upper tribunal in the case of an Ethiopian church charity it was investigating.

The commission wishes to overturn a decision by the charity tribunal that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion can continue its appeal against the opening of the inquiry – even after the regulator closed the investigation.

The regulator opened a statutory inquiry into the church, which is based in Battersea, south-west London, on 31 March. The trustees of the charity appealed against the opening of the inquiry on 14 April; the commission then closed the inquiry on 12 May.

The tribunal then told the charity to withdraw its appeal or to give reasons why its appeal should not be struck out. The church gave seven reasons, including the lack of a review of the lawfulness of the inquiry, the church's view that the inquiry was based upon a misinterpretation of its governing document and damage to the charity's reputation by the inquiry being made public.

Earlier this month, charity tribunal judge Alison McKenna allowed the church’s appeal to continue.

In directions published last week, McKenna gave the commission permission to appeal against that decision in the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber).

"This is a novel area for the charity jurisdiction and one in which the guidance of the upper tribunal would be welcome," says McKenna in the directions document.

While this matter is handled by the upper tribunal, proceedings in the charity tribunal have been put on hold, the document says.

Separately, the hearings in two other charity tribunal appeals against statutory inquiries will take place later in the year, the tribunal has said.

Michael Lloyd, a trustee of the Muslim aid charity Al-Fatiha Global, will have an oral hearing in November or December, a directions document says. Lloyd lodged his appeal at the tribunal in May, after the commission opened a statutory inquiry in March over financial management and governance concerns at the charity.

In the second case there will be a paper hearing in October over the inquiry opened into the Augustine Housing Trust. The homelessness charity also appealed in May against an inquiry that opened in March, looking into its business rates relief arrangements.

In his initial appeal, Kevin Gregory, a trustee of the trust, had made nine requests to the tribunal, including making the Charity Commission remove the press release from its website about the opening of the statutory inquiry and apologising to the charity. These have now been withdrawn, with Gregory telling the tribunal he had been misinformed about the tribunal’s powers, the directions document says.

In both cases, the commission and the appellants have been given a timetable to agree on matters including a list of agreed issues, an agreed bundle of documents and any witness evidence they wish to use.

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