The principal judge of the charity tribunal has said that its role in dealing with third-party applications should be clarified.
In an article for the journal The Charity Law & Practice Review, Alison McKenna, principal judge of the First-tier Tribunal (Charity), writes that the tribunal was not set up to be an adjudicator between third parties and charities, but there had been an increase in such applications.
She says that "persons who are or may be affected" may take cases involving Charity Commission decisions to the tribunal, and questions how appropriate it is for third parties to have such wide-ranging rights in the tribunal’s statutory framework.
The tribunal was created to be a swift and low-cost way to challenge Charity Commission decisions, says McKenna, but this could be threatened by third-party applications slowing down processes and ultimately changing the tribunal’s function.
"I would suggest that there is a need for clarity as to whether third-party appeal rights are intended to be meaningful and effective and, if so, that the statutory framework and powers exercisable by the tribunal should be reviewed to this end," she writes.
"It must be remembered that these are not (and are not intended to be) adversarial proceedings between the third party and the charity. The tribunal’s function is to hear appeals against decisions of the Charity Commission and yet, if there is to be an expansion of third-party applications, it may be increasingly cast in the role of adjudicator in disputes between a charity and a member of the public."
The tribunal’s Register of Cases cites third-party applications that McKenna refers to, including Ryan and Maidment v Charity Commission, involving people living close to a charitable land in Dartford, Kent, that was subject to a Charity Commission scheme, and Aliss and Hesketh v Charity Commission where pupils’ parents objected to the merger of two independent schools in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
"Applications to the First-tier Tribunal (Charity) by ‘Persons Affected’ by the Charity Commission’s Decision" by Alison McKenna is published in The Charity Law & Practice Review, Volume 16, 2013/14.