New appeals system must be independent, say Scottish charity lawyers

They oppose proposal to replace Scottish Charities Appeal Panel with appeals to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

Scottish charities must continue to have an independent route of appeal against decisions by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, according to a group of charity lawyers.

A Charity Law Association working group made the comments in its response to the Scottish Government's consultation on replacements for the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel, whose closure was announced in 2008 after it had heard only one case in two years. 

One of the options proposed in the consultation, which closed earlier this month, was to replace the Scap with an appeals structure within the OSCR. But the lawyers strongly objected, saying it was important for justice that the appeals structure should be external to the OSCR.

"Our members' experience is that the internal complaints procedure operated by the Charity Commission is not satisfactory," they said.

Instead, they proposed that this summer's review of tribunals in Scotland should look at merging the Scap with another tribunal. Keeping the appeals route within the tribunal structure would allow decisions to be made faster and more cost-effectively than in the courts, they said.

But they added that charities should also have the option of appealing to the Court of Session, similar to the High Court in England and Wales, so that important issues could be considered by senior judges, allowing precedents to be set and case law to be developed.

"The lack of judicial consideration of the charities legislation and the OSCR's interpretation of it is preventing the development of Scottish charity law to the detriment of all involved, including the OSCR," they said.    

They acknowledged that the high costs involved would restrict the number of appeals to the Court of Session, but said more could be done to reduce costs, such as encouraging pro bono representation of charities.



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