Minister of Communities launches charity regulation review in Northern Ireland

The review was announced after a High Court ruling found that decisions made by the commission’s staff were unlawful

There will be an independent review of charity regulation in Northern Ireland after a court ruling found that decisions made by the commission’s staff were unlawful.

An appeal by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was dismissed in the High Court in February last year.

It followed a 2019 judgment that ruled only the commission’s board members have decision-making powers, and they do not have implied or express power to delegate their functions to staff.

This means decisions previously taken by members of the commission’s staff are now unlawful.

As a result the Northern Ireland communities minister, Deirdre Hargey, has ordered the independent review.

It will consider the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 and the roles of the Charity Commission and the communities department.

The review will focus on whether the legislation and the operation of the commission within the existing legal framework strikes the right balance between supporting charities to do the right thing with advice and guidance, and deterring, or dealing with, misconduct and mismanagement through enforcement activities.

It will not revisit decisions in individual cases, but will examine the legal and regulatory framework and the performance of the current regulator within it, in light of evolving best practice.

In addition, the regulator has commissioned a separate review by an independent counsel into the actions taken by the commission in relation to two specific statutory inquiries.

In a statement on its website after last year’s appeal was rejected, the commission stated that to have a board or committee of commissioners making every decision would involve a radical change to its structure, processes and budget.

A communities department spokesperson said: “The department is assured that the Charity Commission has introduced interim procedures to ensure decisions can be taken in compliance with the judgment.

“In the meantime, the department can give an assurance to those charities that were unlawfully registered that they remain charities in law and need do nothing differently in the interim.”

Following the review, recommendations to improve the operation of the regulatory framework will be made.

The regulator is hosting a series of webinars until 29 April, and is seeking as much feedback as possible.

More information can be found here.

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