Don't alter constitutions, says lawyer

An Edinburgh law firm has claimed that Scottish ministers could easily make it possible for a large number of English charities working in Scotland to avoid having to change their constitutions.

Turcan Connell solicitors claimed that Scottish ministers could simply "disapply" the parts of the 2005 Scottish Charities Act that threaten to force as many as 300 English charities operating north of the border to amend their constitutions.

Problems have arisen because of differences in the definition of charitable purpose in the Scottish and English charities acts (Third Sector, 14 March). About 300charities are facing bills of more than £500 to make small alterations to their constitutions in order to comply with Scottish law.

"There is a specific power in the Scottish Charities Act preserved to the ministers to change the charity test or to disapply parts of it," said Gavin McEwan, senior associate at Turcan Connell.

He pointed out that Scottish ministers have already used these powers to ensure that national bodies such as the National Library of Scotland continue to have charitable status.

But Jane Ryder, chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, said a blanket disapplication by ministers would be neither consistent nor fair.

"We are in dialogue with all 300 charities affected and, in the vast majority of cases, only a minor alteration to their constitutions is needed," she said. "Indeed, we have already provided a form of words that would meet this requirement.

"We feel that to propose a blanket exemption from the charity test for all English bodies would be inconsistent and impractical."

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