We decide about appeals, charity tribunal tells the Charity Commission

Commission rebuked for telling complainants to withdraw appeal to the tribunal

Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal
Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal

The Charity Commission has been rebuked by the charity tribunal for telling two Hampshire residents to withdraw an appeal to the tribunal about the commission's proposed action over a case in Romsey.

Geoffrey Morris and Edward Mason want to appeal against the commission's proposal to allow Romsey Abbey in Hampshire to continue using charitable land as a car park. The commission has offered to grant Test Valley Borough Council, the sole trustee of the land, a legal order called an easement.

But the regulator told Morris and Mason in a letter that the order had not actually been made and that, even if it had, it was not the kind of order against which anybody but the charity concerned or its trustees could appeal. It asked for confirmation that the appeal would be withdrawn.

Alison McKenna, principal judge of the tribunal, confirmed in a ruling last week that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in this kind of case. But she criticised the commission's letter to the appellants and insisted that only the tribunal could rule on the limits of its jurisdiction.

She quoted the appellants' description of the commission's letter as "confusing, dismissive and not worthy of the organisation" and agreed with them that its tone was inappropriate. She said that in previous cases where the tribunal's jurisdiction was in doubt, the commission had quite properly asked for a preliminary hearing.

"I am concerned by the different approach of the respondent in this case and express the hope that it is not now the respondent's practice to put pressure on appellants to withdraw their applications to the tribunal as an alternative to seeking a ruling on jurisdiction," she said.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it very much regretted that the appellants had found its letter dismissive and denied it had intended to put pressure on them. Officials had made a lengthy telephone call to explain the legal situation in detail.

She said the tribunal had previously dealt informally with such cases, but had adopted a new policy of referring them to a judge for a ruling on jurisdiction. "We hope to be able to discuss with the tribunal how this sort of case might be dealt with in future," she said.

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