Charity tribunal rejects appeal by Dartford residents against land sale

Alison McKenna, principal judge of the tribunal, strikes out challenge to Charity Commission ruling

Alison McKenna
Alison McKenna

The charity tribunal has struck out a fresh appeal in a long-running dispute over the sale of charitable land in Dartford to a property developer.

Lennox Ryan and Derek Maidment, two local residents, appealed to the tribunal in 2009 against a decision by Dartford Borough Council, the sole trustees of a charity called the Kidd Legacy Being a Part of Central Park Dartford, to sell a section of land held by the charity to a property developer in 2004.

Ryan and Maidment contested the Charity Commission’s ruling that, although the sale had breached charity law, it had been conducted in good faith.

The tribunal ruled that it was not able to reverse the sale, but said that the Dartford council would have to make adjustments to governance, including the introduction of independent trustees to prevent potential conflicts of interest.

Ryan contacted the Charity Commission earlier this year with concerns that the council had not complied with the terms of the conflict of interest policy set out by the tribunal after the 2009 judgment, and that a planning decision had been taken in breach of that policy.

The commission told Ryan in May that it had found no regulatory concerns regarding the council's actions, and on 5 July turned down a subsequent request for an internal review of the decision.

Ryan then asked the charity tribunal to review the commission’s refusal of internal review but, in a ruling published earlier this month, principal judge Alison McKenna rejected the request.

"The tribunal is a creature of statute and may only exercise the powers conferred on it by parliament," the ruling says. "This means that there is only a right of appeal in respect of the decisions listed in what is now Schedule 6 to the Charities Act 2011.

"A decision to refuse to consider a matter in its internal review process is not a decision specified in the schedule, and in those circumstances I must rule that the tribunal has no jurisdiction in respect of the decision of 5 July 2012."

In his appeal, Ryan had also requested that the tribunal take enforcement action if it found that the terms of the scheme it had set out had not been kept to.

The judgment says the tribunal would have no powers to take such action. "At present the legislative framework is clear that the tribunal has no jurisdiction and so no power to intervene where it is alleged that a party is acting in breach of its earlier decision."

Ryan told Third Sector he was considering his options but had no definite plans as to how he might proceed. He said he felt the tribunal’s inability to act was the fault of statute rather than of the tribunal.

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