Prayer Book Society member granted permission to appeal against change to charity's objects

Charity tribunal criticises Charity Commission for failing to publish its decision to allow religious charity to shorten its objects

Book of Common Prayer
Book of Common Prayer

The charity tribunal has allowed a member of the Prayer Book Society to lodge an appeal against the Charity Commission’s decision to permit the charity to amend its objects.

On 30 August, the commission gave its consent for the Prayer Book Society, which advances the Christian religion as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, to amend the objects clause of its memorandum of association. The changes shortened the objects and made them less specific.

The commission sent the decision to the charity by email but did not publish it more widely. 

Alan Bartley, a member of the society, became aware of the consent when he put in a request to the commission under the Freedom of Information Act and received a response on 6 October. He then lodged an appeal with the charity tribunal on 16 November.

An appellant usually has only 42 days of a decision being published to lodge an appeal. But in a decision published by the tribunal last week, principal judge Alison McKenna acknowledged the "unusual circumstances of this case" and allowed the appeal to progress.

She also criticised the commission for its failure to publish its decision.

"The statutory scheme clearly envisages that the Charity Commission itself will ‘publish’ decisions so as to make persons with standing to appeal aware of the fact that an appealable decision has been made," said McKenna’s ruling. She said that the commission did not appear to have adopted that practice in relation to decisions under the relevant part of the Charities Act 2011.

Prudence Dailey, chair of the Prayer Book Society, said the changes to its objects, which were drawn up following consultation with its 5,000 members, were unanimously accepted at the charity’s annual general meeting in September. 

She said the changes were motivated by a review that found that, while in general the previous objects were reasonably accurate, there were "one or two areas of concern". One of those was that, because the objects were so specific, there were certain things that were not being covered. 

For example, said Dailey, the organisation has an interest in the training of lay readers but they were not mentioned in the charity’s old objects. "We felt things were not 100 per cent accurate because they were so specific," she added.

The charity’s other concern, said Dailey, was that the old objectives referred to the promotion of the Book of Common Prayer as the norm for all principal services, which it felt gave the wrong impression. The Church of England had changed a lot since the charity was set up in 1972, she said, and there was now a wider variety of different services used within the church.

"It is not that we have watered down our commitment to the Book of Common Prayer in any way, but we have to be realistic in the world that we live in," said Dailey. 

A spokeswoman for the commission said she could not comment on the case because the regulator was yet to file its response to the notice of appeal.

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