Proposed trustee disqualification power 'needs external scrutiny', MPs are told

Members of a working party set up by the Charity Law Association tell the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill that its provisions are not clear enough

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

A proposal to give the Charity Commission the power to disqualify people it considers unfit from being charity trustees is too broad and needs external scrutiny, MPs and peers have heard.

At a hearing in Westminster on Tuesday of the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, which has been set up to provide scrutiny of the bill before it goes before parliament, representatives of a working party from the Charity Law Association said that they were in favour of the regulator having a discretionary power to disqualify people from being trustees.

But they said that the working party had concerns about the conditions and the procedure for people being disqualified.

Nicola Evans, a senior associate at the law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, told the committee that the section of the draft bill that set out the circumstances in which somebody might be deemed to be unfit was too broad.

The draft legislation says that "any other past or continuing conduct by the person, whether or not in relation to a charity, is damaging or likely to be damaging to public trust and confidence in charities generally or in the charities or classes of charity specified or described in the order".

Evans told the committee: "Essentially, it seems to say ‘any conduct’, which seems to make the field incredibly wide. We think that charity trustees should know what the conditions are and that they should be clear. At present we do not think they are sufficiently clear."

She said that members of the CLA working party believed the proposed procedure would benefit from some external scrutiny. As drafted, it would allow the commission to disqualify an individual and the latter to appeal to the charity tribunal.

Evans cited the example of the way in which company directors are disqualified, which requires an external body to apply the criteria before disqualification occurs. "We could see the benefit of having an external view of the criteria," she said.

Jo Coleman, a partner at IBB Solicitors, said it was "just a question of having a fair hearing in front of an independent third party".

Pauline Broomhead, chief executive of the Foundation for Social Improvement, which supports small charities, appeared later before the committee. Asked about the power to disqualify trustees, she said: "When I ask the charities, they say there should be an independent body to look at it."

She said that the trustees working alongside a disqualified individual should also be able to make representations on that person’s behalf.

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