Legal Diary: Dibble tells peers about referendum guidance

The Charity Commission's legal director was quizzed by a House of Lords Select Committee on revisiting the guidance following concerns

Kenneth Dibble, the Charity Commission's legal director, was asked at the recent hearing of the Lords Select Committee on Charities about the commission's guidance on the EU referendum, which was revised and re-issued after concern was expressed by some in the sector and an analysis by the solicitors Bates Wells Braithwaite said it "misrepresented the law".

Dibble told the committee there had been "some immediate concerns about the width" of the guidance and it was revisited to deal with them. He added: "The style with which is it was written did look restrictive, even though it was technically correct in law."

The first version, he said, was "prepared by the executive and signed off by the policy and guidance committee"; the second was "reviewed with the executive and signed off by the chief executive and a legal board member".

The policy and guidance committee, according to the commission's annual report, is chaired by Orlando Fraser QC, the most hawkish of the board members in the 2015 row over the Cage affair, and one of its members is Gwythian Prins, who published an anti-EU essay before the referendum took place. His failure to pre-notify the commission about this was deemed "an honest mistake" by the Cabinet Office.

Dibble said the commission had dealt with "four or five transgressions" of the referendum guidance and "14 or 15" cases of charities straying over the line on political campaigning at the last election. "Two or three" other cases were being looked at. "Most charities respect our position and view, and these issues are resolved by them correcting their behaviour," he said.

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