Advocacy group Cage, which was accused earlier this year of excusing terrorism, has taken the Charity Commission to court for “exceeding its role” after charities said the regulator had pressured them to stop funding the group.
Cage has made a submission to the High Court, seeking a quashing order to be made against the regulator over its decision in March to make the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation withdraw their funding from the advocacy group.
Cage’s legal action stems from early March 2015, when it was heavily criticised for defending British citizen Mohammed Emwazi, who was identified as the Islamic State executioner dubbed ‘Jihadi John’.
Shortly after that, the Charity Commission announced it had opened compliance cases into the two charities, and within a few days of the cases being opened, both the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation had released statements saying they had ceased funding Cage.
Zoe Nicola, Cage's solicitor, said: "The actions of the Charity Commission in this instance will have a chilling effect on the ability of third sector and charitable organisations to engage in controversial debates and are counter-productive."
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust issued a statement, cited in Cage’s High Court application, which said that it was put “under intense regulatory pressure” by the Commission to not fund Cage again in the future.
The submission also claims that the Commission wrote to “numerous other charities”, warning them against making any payments or “entering into any agreements” with Cage in the future.
Cage, which is not itself a charity, has argued the Commission was acting outside of its powers and made its decision “unfairly without any prior notice” to Cage, which violated the freedoms of expression and association of both the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation.
Cage said that due to the publicity which came from the Commission 's actions it has been put under “undue pressure” by the media and that since March has been “unable to open a bank account”.
Between 2007 and 2014 Cage received £271,250 in funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and £120,000 between 2009 and 2012 from the Roddick Foundation. These sums collectively represented, according to the submissions, some 55 per cent of the advocacy group’s total external funding.
Cage has taken their submissions straight to the High Court, as no statutory inquiry was opened into the affair by the Commission and so the Charity Tribunal has no jurisdiction in the matter.
Speaking to Civil Society News, a spokesman for Cage said this legal action was not about money but about “making the Charity Commission a more accountable and impartial” organisation.
A spokeswoman for the Commission said: "We can confirm that the Commission is aware of this legal claim and that we are considering it carefully.
"We cannot comment further at this stage.”
A spokesman for the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust told Civil Society News: "The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is aware that Cage has independently commenced judicial review proceedings against the Charity Commission.
"This is a matter between Cage and the Charity Commission and we will be making no further comment at this time."