Two Kent residents told the charity tribunal yesterday that there should be a thorough investigation into how two sets of eminent solicitors failed to recognise that a section of charitable land sold to a property developer was charitable.
The residents are appealing to the tribunal against the Charity Commission's decision to rubber stamp their local council's scheme to remedy the unlawful sale of charity land.
Dartford Borough Council sold the land to a developer without the commission's permission.
This prompted an appeal by two Dartford residents, who objected to the commission's decision to accept new governance arrangements for the Kidd Legacy charitable land, which forms part of the Kent town's Central Park, after the sale.
One of the appellants, Derek Maidment, questioned how the solicitors for the council and the property developers both failed to recognise that the deed leaving the land to the people of Dartford established a charitable trust.
He called in his closing statement for the tribunal to quash the commission's scheme and remit the land back to the commission, which could then enquire further into the failure to recognise the land as charitable.
Matthew Smith, counsel for the commission, argued that such an investigation would not be an appropriate use of the commission's resources.
Maidment also said a proposed new board for the charity, involving a committee of six councillors and three lay people, was not sufficiently independent from the council and would not necessarily act in the best interests of the charity. He said the board should be made up entirely of lay members elected at an AGM.
Lennox Ryan, the other claimant, objected to the commission's decision to "change horse" and rely on a different section of the Charities Act 1993 for its powers to seal the scheme when it realised the powers it had originally used did not apply in this case. "The commission had failed to make its case so should not have sealed the scheme," he said.
Smith said the new arrangements still gave the trustees of the charitable land a power of sale provided they obtained the commission's consent. But he said the fact that the land was registered with the commission and the land registry as charitable would make it almost impossible for people to argue in future that they were ignorant of the land's charitable status.
Alison McKenna, principal judge of the tribunal, said the appellants could expect a decision by the end of November.