Tribunal upholds scheme for London church charities to change their charitable objects

The Charity Commission had approved the scheme, presented in 2007 by a solicitor for Westminster Chapel and the Westminster Chapel Manse Trust, but it met with opposition

Westminster Chapel
Westminster Chapel

The charity tribunal has upheld the Charity Commission’s approval of a scheme changing the charitable objects of two London-based church charities, saying the appeal against the move was based on matters of religious doctrine.

The appeal concerned two charities, the excepted and unincorporated charity Westminster Chapel, an evangelical church in central London, and the Westminster Chapel Manse Trust, which owns properties used for accommodation for the church’s ministers, according to the decision published by the tribunal last week.

In 2007, the charities’ solicitor brought a proposal to the commission that a newly created charity, also called Westminster Chapel, be appointed as a trustee of the chapel property and the Manse Trust, and that the two pre-existing charities be jointly administered. This scheme was agreed to by the commission in January 2012.

Alan Bartley was one of a number of people to oppose this proposed scheme. As a result of this opposition, the scheme was reviewed internally by the commission and a brief summary of the decision was published on the commission’s website in November 2013. This decision allowed the appointment of the corporate trustee but, according to last week’s tribunal decision, "concluded that it was neither necessary nor appropriate to amalgamate", and therefore amended the scheme.

Bartley lodged his appeal against the amended scheme on 24 December 2013. He then failed to communicate with the tribunal or agree a list of issues, documents and witness statements with the commission, as directed. A three-man tribunal convened to consider the matter on the papers on 30 June.

The tribunal rejected Bartley’s appeal, saying the appeal was based "on a personal interpretation of doctrinal matters", rather than the governance affairs the commission deals with. The decision document says: "Mr Bartley’s reasoning is at times difficult to follow and his conclusions are largely uncorroborated by primary evidence.

"The scheme made by the commission has no bearing on Mr Bartley’s underlying concern about matters of doctrine. This is because the scheme is wholly administrative in nature and provides that the trust property continues to be held on trust for the original purposes."

Kenneth Dibble, chief legal adviser at the commission, said: "We are pleased with the outcome in this case. The decision also highlights the effectiveness of the commission’s decision review process in safeguarding the quality of its decisions."

It is not made clear in the tribunal’s decision what involvement Bartley has with the charities. However, he was already familiar to the tribunal, having made a similar appeal in 2012 against a change of objects at the Prayer Book Society, another Christian charity. In this case, the tribunal criticised the commission for failing to publish its initial decision on the scheme, but the appeal was withdrawn by Bartley in April 2013.

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