The government has confirmed the appointment of the barrister Orlando Fraser as next chair of the Charity Commission, despite him being rejected as the preferred candidate by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee.
Fraser, who has been a commercial barrister for almost 30 years and who served on the board of the Charity Commission between 2013 and 2017, will take up his new role on 25 April for a three-year term.
His appointment was opposed by MPs on the DCMS Select Committee, who said yesterday, after a pre-appointment hearing with him last week, that while Fraser had potential to do the job they were disappointed that he represented “yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice” from a limited shortlist.
It is unusual for select committees to reject the government’s preferred candidate for public roles but ministers are not bound to follow their recommendations.
In 2018, the DCMS committee unanimously rejected Baroness Stowell as prospective chair of the Charity Commission but Matt Hancock, the culture secretary at the time, appointed her anyway.
At the pre-appointment hearing with MPs last week, Fraser said that if he was rejected by the committee he would read the reasons, consult the secretary of state “and if I felt that it made it impossible for me to do the job, I would withdraw”.
Fraser, who unsuccessfully stood for the Conservative Party at the 2005 general election, has declared no political activity, such as publicly supporting a party or making a significant donation, in the past five years.
He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2014 and was a founding fellow of the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank the Centre for Social Justice.
Fraser has also served on the Civil Justice Council and the advisory council for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
In 2015, Third Sector reported that Fraser called for the regulator to open a “look-see statutory inquiry” into the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to establish whether the trust’s funding for the advocacy group Cage ended up supporting Mohammed Emwazi, who was believed to have beheaded hostages in Syria and became known as Jihadi John.
The commission did not open an inquiry but instead put pressure on the charity and obtained an undertaking that it would never fund Cage again. This prompted Cage to seek a judicial review on the grounds that the commission had exceeded its powers.
The judicial review was withdrawn by Cage after a High Court hearing at which the commission made a statement recognising that “it has no power to require trustees to fetter the future exercise of their fiduciary duties under its general power to give advice and guidance. In consequence, there is no obligation on the trustees of JRCT to fetter the proper and lawful exercise of their discretion in the future.”
Fraser will be paid £62,500 for two and a half days per week.