- This story has been corrected: see final paragraph
The High Court has given leave for a judicial review of the actions of the Charity Commission in obtaining an undertaking from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust that it would never again fund the advocacy group Cage.
The application for the review to proceed was granted this morning by Lord Justice Burnett. The JRTC was represented in court as an "interested party".
The parties have until mid-September to submit any further evidence. The case will be heard later in the year in the Divisional Court.
Dr Adnan Siddiqui, director of Cage, said: "We are pleased by today’s decision. The rule of law remains an ideal worth striving for in the interests of good government and peace at home and abroad.
"The Charity Commission’s actions against Cage have sent a chill through the charity sector, and this is a welcome step in the right direction for all members of civil society."
Cage, which is not a charity, argued that the regulator "exerted unlawful pressure" earlier this year when it sought assurance from the JRCT and another grant-making charity, the Roddick Foundation, that they would never fund it again.
Cage's ground for seeking judicial review was based on three parts: that the commission's decisions to seek the assurance were beyond its powers; that the decisions violated Cage's freedoms of expression and association; and that the decisions were made unfairly without any prior notice to Cage.
The judge said the court was prepared to give permission for the review on the grounds that the commission might have acted outside of its powers. He noted the point made by Cage and JRCT that even if the commission had the power to do what it did, it might not have exercised its power in a rational manner: if this argument was raised in the review hearing, it would need to be properly evidenced.
But he said the contention that the commission violated Cage's freedom of expression and did not give Cage prior notice was "unarguable".
The Charity Commission's counsel, Julian Milford, argued that the regulator had not exceeded its powers and the statement made to the JRCT with respect to Cage was not legally binding.
He cited section 15, part 2 of the Charities Act 2011, which says the commission may "give such advice or guidance with respect to the administration of charities as it considers appropriate", and section 20 of the act, which says the regulator "may do anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the performance of any of its functions or general duties".
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said in a statement that the regulator remained of the view that its actions had been responsible with respect to Cage and the JRCT.
"We are pleased the High Court has today dismissed Cage's arguments that the commission breached its human rights and did not act fairly," she said. "The court has directed that there should be a further hearing to consider Cage's remaining argument, that the commission acted outside its powers. We look forward to explaining to the court why the commission’s engagement with these charities was firmly within our powers."
Cage also announced today that it had lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations Special Rapporteur, calling for a full investigation of the British government, after the Prime Minister referred to the group in a speech on extremism earlier this week.
Zoe Nicola of HMA Solicitors, representing Cage, said: "The case raises major constitutional issues on whether the commission can require assurances from charities not to spend private money in support of controversial causes.
"We welcome the court's decision that the judicial review raises sufficiently important matters that the full appeal should be unusually determined by a full Divisional Court."
- The story orginally said the judge "noted the point that even if the commission had the power to do what it did, it might not have exercised its power in a rational manner"; the words "made by Cage and JRCT" have now been inserted after the word "point"