The United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body for Freemasonry groups, has pulled out of its role in a landmark legal hearing on the charitable status of benevolent funds.
The UGLE had been asked to submit evidence to the forthcoming hearing, in which the Upper Tribunal will consider whether charities that help only those people linked to a certain individual or organisation meet the public benefit requirement for charitable status.
But papers published yesterday by the tribunal say that the UGLE "is on its own application hereby removed from the list of interveners".
Figures from the Charity Commission show that 1,368 registered charities are likely to be affected by the tribunal’s ruling, of which 1,204 are masonic groups.
A spokeswoman for the UGLE was unable to comment on why the organisation had chosen to withdraw from the case, which is due to be heard in the Rolls Building, London, from 15 to 17 November.
The case is being heard because the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, referred the issue to the tribunal, saying it was an area in which the law was unclear. The Charity Commission had asked him to refer the case in this way.
If the tribunal rules that groups are not charitable if they help only those people linked to a certain organisation or individual, they will have to change their objects in order to support more people, or risk losing their charitable status. To meet the public benefit test set out in the Charities Act 2006, charities must show that they support a significant section of the public.
The Professional Footballers’ Association Benevolent Fund, the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association and the British Airways Welfare and Benevolent Fund are among the 10 charitable funds that have become formal parties to the case.
The Grand Stewards Lodge 250th Anniversary Benevolent Fund, which includes among its objects the funding of "poor and distressed brother masons or their poor and distressed widows and children" is also a party to the case.