Charity Commission legal services head questions need for lawyers at charity tribunal

Kenneth Dibble highlights evidence suggesting that charities can achieve success "without the use of professional legal advice"

Kenneth Dibble
Kenneth Dibble

Charities do not always need to hire lawyers when taking cases to the charity tribunal, the Charity Commission’s head of legal services has said.

In an article on the commission’s website – originally published as a article in the Solicitors Journal on 2 July – Kenneth Dibble said that when the charity tribunal started in 2008, it was hoped that it would provide swift, low-cost access to justice. But since then it has been criticised for being an expensive process after charities spent significant sums on their appeals or responding to references in the tribunal.

Dibble said that he understood why many charities instructed solicitors or barristers to represent them at the tribunal, rather than representing themselves, but he said evidence suggested that charities could achieve success "without the use of professional legal advice".

He cited the case of The Kidd Legacy, a public recreation ground with charitable status in Dartford, Kent: "In an early case, The Kidd Legacy, two members of the public brought an appeal against a commission scheme. They represented themselves. Although the scheme was upheld, the appeal was successful in having the scheme amended," said Dibble.

Dibble also cited the case of Llanfair Waterdine, a Shropshire-based charity that helps people in need. A trustee of the charity challenged a commission decision to allow trustees to bid to rent the charities' land for grazing.

"The appellant did not instruct a lawyer but argued the case himself, and won," said Dibble.

Dibble said the commission supported the approach taken by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), which he said had produced a guide for trustees on how to take a case in the tribunal without the need for lawyers.

"Our experience has shown that the tribunal is well able to provide an environment where even some of the more difficult points of charity law can be discussed and adjudicated on in a non-legalistic manner with support for those choosing not to be legally represented. We continue to endorse its use in appropriate cases," said Dibble.

A spokesman for the NCVO said a guide for trustees on how the charity tribunal works was due to be published later this summer.

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