Charity tribunal guide published by National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal, says the body provides a "swift and low cost" way of challenging the Charity Commission's decisions

Alison McKenna
Alison McKenna

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has published a guide to help explain how the charity tribunal works.

In a foreword to the guide, Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal, says the level of awareness of the tribunal remains low, even though it provides a "swift and low cost" way of challenging the Charity Commission’s decisions. 

The guide covers nine points, which include the types of cases that the tribunal can hear, the stages of an appeal, the hearing and the tribunal’s decisions.

McKenna says in her foreword that it is important for charities to know that the tribunal exists as an independent appeals body that they can use without going through the commission’s internal appeal process.

Earlier this month, Kenneth Dibble, head of legal services at the Charity Commission, welcomed the NCVO’s plans to publish guidance and said that charities were unnecessarily hiring lawyers to take cases to the tribunal.

McKenna agrees in the guide that it is not necessary for charities to be legally represented at the tribunal. "Tribunals as a whole decide well over a million cases a year – and lawyers are a rarity," she says.

She adds that the tribunal has no power to direct charities to use a lawyer or not, but would "always be happy to assist anyone who chose to represent themselves".

McKenna says it was also important to raise awareness among charities that there is no risk of costs being awarded against a charity simply because it loses a tribunal appeal.

"Although the tribunal has the power to make a charity pay the commission’s cost, this arises only where a charity behaves ‘unreasonably’ in conducting its case. In fact such an order has never been made," McKenna says.

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