Editorial: Time to review charity appeals

Court decision to refuse permission for judicial review of Imamia Mission case illustrates the need to extend the appeals remit of the charity tribunal, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

There was some uncertainty last week about whether the Administrative Court was going to give leave for a judicial review of the Charity Commission's decision not to open a formal inquiry into the Imamia Mission in East London.

The case had been brought by one of the charity's former trustees, who alleges that the commission is failing in its statutory duty to investigate wrongdoing in charities after another trustee was found guilty of a criminal offence.

It eventually became clear that the court has refused to give permission for a judicial review. This might be because the commission has, in effect, achieved by voluntary means most of what a formal inquiry might have been expected to achieve: the offending trustee has already been removed as an administrative trustee, and the charity has told the commission he will be removed as a holding trustee so that his name is no longer on property documents.

But the crucial point here is not the merits and circumstances of this individual case. It is the fact that it came to be considered by the Administrative Court in the first place. The appeal was first made to the charity tribunal, but it was unable to consider it because a decision by the commission not to use its statutory powers is not on the somewhat limited list of matters that can be appealed to the tribunal. All it could do was pass the case on for consideration of a judicial review - which, had it gone ahead, would have involved all the expense and formality that the tribunal was intended to avert.

Four cases have now been ruled inadmissible by the tribunal for this or similar reasons, a fifth is likely, and the argument is becoming ever stronger for the appealable categories to be revised and expanded so that the tribunal's purpose of rapid, low-cost access to justice can be more convincingly realised. Next year's review of the Charities Act 2006 would be a good opportunity to do this.

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