Lawyer criticises plan to give regulator power to bar people from trusteeships

Cecile Gillard of Burton Sweet tells Charity Commission public meeting in Bristol she is concerned by proposals to give this power to 'a body that is not a court'

Cecile Gillard
Cecile Gillard

A lawyer has said she is "deeply concerned" at a proposal to give the Charity Commission the discretionary power to disqualify individuals from acting as trustees.

A Cabinet Office consultation on the commission’s powers, which was launched in December, proposes that the regulator could be given "a broad discretionary power to disqualify for a specified period a person whose conduct makes them unfit to be a charity trustee", along similar lines to the test used in the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.

The commission has raised concerns that it is unable to disqualify people from being a trustee for reasons such as terrorism-related offences.

But at the Charity Commission’s public meeting in Bristol yesterday, in a session set up to take feedback on proposals in the consultation, Cecile Gillard, legal manager at the chartered accountancy firm Burton Sweet, said she was "deeply concerned at the proposal to give discretionary power to a body that is not a court the power to remove a liberty from an individual".

She said the suggestion was "symbolic of a wider degree of creep that we've seen in the English courts" of non-courts having these kinds of power.

Another attendee said, however: "From a non-legal point of view it sounds perfectly reasonable that this is the sort of thing the Charity Commission should do. Personally, I'm very happy for the Charity Commission to make that judgement."

Attendees were giving their views in small groups, each hosted by one commission staff member.

David Bogie, the senior policy officer for the commission, told one of the groups that any disqualification the commission made could be appealed in the courts. But another attendee said that the chances of an individual getting legal aid in such a case was unlikely, which would in effect make an appeal impossible.

Most people generally agreed that it was correct to expand the list of offences that automatically disqualified people from being charity trustees.

Additional crimes suggested in the consultation include money laundering, terrorism-related offences, perjury, the incitement of racial or religious hatred, or on the ground of sexual orientation.

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the commission, told the meeting that the consultation was about "dealing with the nasty abuse. The commission would say this, but I say this seriously: we're not after more red tape for those who make an honest mistake."

The participants’ views will be fed back by the commission to the Cabinet Office.

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