Charity tribunal strikes out appeal by African Aids Action

But judge voices concern that Charity Commission intervention prevented the charity paying for legal advice

The charity tribunal has struck out an appeal by African Aids Action against the findings of a Charity Commission investigation, despite concerns about the charity's lack of access to legal advice.

The commission froze the charity's bank account and opened an inquiry in November 2008 after allegations that the charity's founder and chair, Eyob Ghebre-Sellassie, was personally benefiting from it.

In November last year, the charity appealed against the commission's refusal to lift the freezing order. It also wanted to contest a number of conclusions in the commission's inquiry report, which the charity has seen but is not yet published.

The tribunal held a preliminary hearing last month, presided over by tribunal judge Peter Hinchcliffe.

In his decision document, Hinchcliffe said it was not "fair or just" that the freezing order had prevented African Aids Action from paying for legal advice about how to respond, and the commission should have taken steps to redress it.

However, he said no material injustice had resulted, so there was no reason to extend the time limit for appealing against the original order.

He also struck out the charity's appeal against the commission's later refusal to lift the freezing order because the regulator had lifted it five days after the tribunal appeal was lodged and had therefore already given the charity what it wanted.

Hinchcliffe dismissed the charity's argument that a tribunal hearing would help to restore its reputation. However, he expressed concern about the commission's ability to "of its own volition exercise a power to take matters out of the jurisdiction of the tribunal once proceedings have begun".

Ghebre-Sellassie told Third Sector he would seek advice on whether to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

"We had an independent auditor who said there was no misuse of funds," he said. "If the Charity Commission has a case, it should take us to courts or the police. But it wants to move on as if nothing happened."

He said the charity also wanted to complain to the Independent Complaints Reviewer but had been waiting for four months for the commission to carry out its own internal investigation.

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