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Government faces legal challenge over Charity Commission chair recruitment

20 Sep 2021 News

The Good Law Project has begun a legal challenge because it is concerned about political interference in the recruitment of a new Charity Commission chair.

Last weekend (12 September) Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary responsible for selecting the next chair of the Charity Commission, wrote an op-ed calling for the sector to be rebalanced and revealing that had written to candidates with this instruction. 

The Good Law Project, which is a not-for-profit campaign organisation, argues that this is unlawful and risks undermining the independence of the regulator.

“We don’t think it’s the Charity Commission’s job to muzzle or ‘cancel’ charities that want to tell the truth about Britain’s past. But ministers want to turn charity law on its head. Charities that help their political agenda will be left alone and charities that resist it will be punished,” the Good Law Project said. 

Lawyers have now written to the new culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, demanding that the process is paused and the instructions Dowden sent to candidates are withdrawn. 

If this does not happen, the Good Law Project will seek an interim injunction to pause the appointments process and move forward with proceedings for a judicial review. 

The Good Law Project has given the government until 24 September (this Friday) to respond. 

A crowdfunding campaign to support the action has almost met its £30,000 target. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the Guardian that the new chair would be named after a “fair and open competition” and that the department would respond to the Good Law Project's letter in due course. 

‘Setting the new chair up to fail’ 

Elsewhere the chief executives of NCVO and ACEVO have had a letter published in the Telegraph responding to the article published the previous weekend. 

They warn that expecting the new chair to actively direct charities to take certain actions, as Dowden had suggested, would harm their independence. 

Sarah Vibert at NCVO and Vicky Browning at ACEVO, wrote: “For some charities, the best way to achieve their mission is by raising issues that may be regarded as challenging by others. As we have seen from Charity Commission investigations into the National Trust, Barnardo’s, and the Runnymede Trust, charities are considering contentious issues carefully and in a balanced way.

“The Charity Commission’s strength is as a neutral arbiter, showing no fear or favour. Expecting it to go beyond this role will harm the new chair’s independence and is setting them up to fail.” 

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