The Charity Tribunal has overturned a Charity Commission direction ordering an an Islamic charity to change its name.
But the Commission says it has concerns about the Tribunal’s approach.
Last September the Commission directed Cambridge Islamic College (CIC) to change its name after the Cambridge Muslim College (CMC) complained that the names were similar and this had caused confusion.
CIC appealed to the Charity Tribunal. A hearing was held in July this year and a decision published yesterday which concluded that the Commission’s direction “gave inadequate consideration to a number of important factors”.
It said the Commission’s case relied too heavily on “general confusion” and that it had not properly considered the impact on CIC of having to rebrand.
It is the first time in over two years that the Tribunal has disagreed with the Commission.
Offered to add a strapline
The Commission’s direction to CIC said: “In the context of these two charities, the word Muslim and the word Islamic are essentially interchangeable.”
It added that “the public will be unable to differentiate between the two charities despite their differing objects”.
The Commission had written to CIC shortly after it registered in 2015 asking it to change its name voluntarily and engaged with both charities over the course of a year before issuing the direction.
In June 2017, CIC offered to add a strapline “Centre for Classical Arabic and Islamic Studies” underneath its name and to state in all fundraising communications that it was not affiliated to CMC.
CMC rejected the offer, but said it was willing to consider future offers.
A CIC trustee, Mohammed Faisal Khaffa, told the Tribunal that the two organisations had different objects and activities, and argued that Islamic and Muslim have distinct meanings. He also said that rebranding would cost the charity half its annual turnover.
Another witness said “Muslim” is used to refer to followers of Islam, whereas and “Islamic” for the religion itself and is used for matters relating to its origins.
25 instances of confusion
Dr S.M.Atif Imtiaz, academic director of CMC, told the Tribunal that whle there are technical differences between Islamic and Muslim, they are interchangelable in the mind of the public.
He also said that there were instances of people giving money to the wrong charity.
CMC submitted a schedule of 25 instances of confusion including phone calls to the wrong charity, email requests for information for courses run by the other charity, donors being irritated at being contacted twice in one day by what they thought was the same charity, confusion on social media and donations to the wrong charity.
‘We hope the two charities settle the issue’
In its concluding comments, the Tribunal said: “We do not consider it appropriate formally to remit the matter to the Commission in circumstances where we are not satisfied that an exceptional case for regulatory intervention is met.”
It added: “We express the hope that this dispute can now be settled between the parties so that further expenditure of charitable funds on regulatory or legal costs can be avoided.”
The Tribunal suggested that CIC’s offer was “a sensible start which can doubtless be refined through formal or informal mediation”.
Commission has concerns about the Tribunal’s approach’
In a statement after the decision was published, the Charity Commission said that the Tribunal’s interpretation could make it harder for the regulator to act in the future and that it is now considering an appeal.
Chris Willis Pickup, head of litigation at the Charity Commission, said: “We are pleased that the Tribunal largely approved our policy for using our name change power, though disappointed that it decided to overturn the direction in this case. This is the first time the Tribunal has overturned one of our decisions since June 2015.
“We have some concerns about the Tribunal’s approach to the legal framework for our name change power, particularly that its narrow interpretation of the legal tests may prevent the Commission from acting where there is a genuine issue with a charity’s name. We are therefore considering whether to appeal this decision to the Upper Tribunal, to clarify the legal framework.”