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The Charity Tribunal
Previously, charities that wished to appeal against the Commission’s legal decisions only had the option of going to the High Court. This was often prohibitively expensive and complicated, particularly for small charities. The Charity Tribunal is a first level of appeal, which is cheaper, more convenient and less formal. This allows smaller charities an accessible means of addressing grievances. Access to the High Court is still be possible on appeal against a decision of the Charity Tribunal.
The Tribunal’s scope: The Tribunal will hear applications to review some matters which previously would have been subject to the judicial review procedure, and will hear appeals against the Commission’s legal decisions, which would previously have been subject to an appeal to the High Court. It will be able to consider decisions that the Commission did take, and also some decisions that it chose not to take. If a charity is unhappy about a decision the Commission has taken, it should first discuss this with the Commission, which will carry out an internal decision review. If after this process the charity is not satisfied, it will be able to appeal to the Tribunal. Cases may be brought against the Commission by charity trustees or other parties affected by its decision, as well as by the Attorney General. The Commission will be the respondent.
The Tribunal may consider matters referred to it by the Attorney General, or, with the Attorney General’s consent, by the Commission. These would generally be questions about the operation or application of a particularly complex area of charity law. The Attorney General will also have the power to intervene in a case before the Tribunal, where s/he is not already a party. This power may well be exercised in complex cases and may help to relieve the party bringing the appeal of some legal costs.
The Tribunal’s work: The Tribunal’s role will be to make judgments about the legality of the Commission’s actions in exercising its statutory powers to regulate charities. The Tribunal will have various powers that it can exercise if it finds that the Commission has acted unlawfully. For example, it may decide to quash a decision if it finds that the Commission has not followed the correct process, and to replace it with its own decision. Or the Tribunal may direct the Commission to take the decision again, following the correct process. In considering appeals, the Tribunal will need to consider the matter and look at any additional evidence that may have come to light.
Costs and compensation: The Tribunal will be able to quash the Commission’s decisions and award costs in certain circumstances. It will not be able, however, to award compensation.
Rules: rules will be made which will provide more detail as to the practice and procedure to be followed in proceedings before the Tribunal.
Appeals to the High Court: If a charity takes part in the legal proceedings being heard by the Tribunal, it may appeal to the High Court against a decision of the Tribunal. It must first have obtained permission from the Tribunal or, if refused by the Tribunal, from the High Court. In general it may bring such an appeal only on the grounds that the Tribunal has made a mistake in law (for example in how it has interpreted the law) and not because it has made a mistake as to facts. So it will not usually be appropriate to present fresh evidence to the High Court.