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Ruling Demands Charity Commission Opens Up

Ruling Demands Charity Commission Opens Up

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Charity Commission should comply with a request from The Times newspaper for background information relating to George Galloway’s Mariam Appeal charity. In a key passage, which affirmed a right to information, Lord Mance noted that nothing in the Freedom of Information Act prevented material being disclosed by public authorities. Sitting with Lord Neuberger and Lord Clarke, Lord Mance said that there was a “powerful public interest” in The Times’s request about the Appeal that would allow “appropriate public scrutiny of the charity and the regulator. For information about how the ruling may affect your charity, please contact a specialist charity lawyer.

The judgment deals with an appeal by Dominic Kennedy, a journalist at the paper, who in 2007 asked the Commission for information gathered in three investigations into the Mariam Appeal. Mr Kennedy discovered that Mr Galloway had raised money to help sick children but subsequently used it on travel expenses for a political campaign to lift sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Commission had collected 25 boxes of evidence but released only a few sheets of A4 paper to the public as its findings. Mr Kennedy asked for the background documents under the Freedom of Information Act, however the Commission argued that inquiry documents were exempt from disclosure under the legislation.

Significant decision

The Supreme Court said that although the Charity Commission does not have a duty to disclose the information it could face a new challenge requiring it to reveal the same information under the common law. The judges said the Commission has the power to disclose information to the public concerning inquiries on which it has published reports under general common law duties of “openness and transparency”, and that any refusal to disclose under these duties could be subject to judicial review.

Mr Kennedy is likely to submit a new request, according to his legal representation. Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, responding to the ruling, said: “This is a very significant decision in extending the public’s right to information to areas where the Freedom of Information Act does not apply.”

Ruling will help uphold trust

In response to the ruling, Kenneth Dibble, chief legal adviser and head of legal services at the Charity Commission, said that any right to information had to be balanced against the need to conduct effective inquiries. He said: “That is why the exemption upheld by today’s judgment is so important. Ultimately, this will help us uphold public trust and confidence in charities.”

IBB’s specialist charity lawyers have over 50 years’ combined experience in delivering practical commercial advice to charities and not for profit organisations and those who work with them. Contact the charity law team by calling us on 01895 207809 or emailing charities@ibblaw.co.uk.