New tribunal in expenses dispute

An academic who applied to become a member of the Charity Tribunal has withdrawn his application because he is concerned that the application process could disadvantage applicants on low incomes.

Gareth Morgan, professor of charity studies at Sheffield Hallam University, is worried that the practice of not reimbursing interviewees for their travel expenses would prevent people living outside London or those on lower incomes from being able to apply.

Morgan, who has more than 20 years' experience in the sector and is the author of a number of books on accounting and fundraising for charities, was invited to come for a practical test in London on 18 January. But on learning that he would have to pay for his travel, he decided not to attend.

"It makes an absolute mockery of the Judicial Appointment Commission's stated aim of being 'committed to selection on merit'," he wrote in a letter to the commission, which is responsible for appointing members to the tribunal. "If members are selected - in part - on their willingness to fund their own expenses at the selection stages, I do not believe the tribunal will have the confidence it deserves."

He added that this was even more relevant in the case of the charity tribunal because of the likelihood that its members would already be doing voluntary work.

A solicitor who did not want to be named said the commission's policy was all the more surprising considering that the tribunal will sit all over the country.

The commission said in a statement: "We do not think it would be right to use taxpayers' money to pay the travel costs of individuals seeking paid judicial appointments. The JAC received more than 2,000 applications for such appointments in the past financial year and there would be a considerable cost to the public purse if we did so.

"However, we are prepared to consider exceptions to this rule - for example, to help applicants who have disabilities."

The Charity Tribunal

- The tribunal will allow charities to challenge decisions taken by the Charity Commission instead of going to the High Court

- It will comprise a president, five legally qualified members and seven other members with knowledge of the sector

- It has the power to quash the commission's decisions and award costs in some cases, but not compensation.

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