Mermaids loses appeal to strip LGB Alliance of charitable status

06 Jul 2023 News

Mermaids has lost its legal challenge to strip LGB Alliance of its charitable status, and has said it is seeking legal advice on whether to appeal the decision.

Judge Griffin states in the judgment: “We have dismissed this appeal because we have decided that the law does not permit Mermaids to challenge the decision made by the Charity Commission to register LGB Alliance as a charity.”

He said in the judgment that Mermaids’ disagreement with the regulator’s decision to award LGB Alliance charitable status in 2021 was insufficient grounds for the appeal.

“The fact that Mermaids and those they support have been affected emotionally and/or socially is insufficient to provide them with standing to bring this appeal, no matter the depth of the feelings resulting from the decision or the strength of their disagreement,” it reads.

“For these reasons we conclude that Mermaids is not a person who is or may be affected by the decision and accordingly we dismiss the appeal.”

LGB Alliance: ‘Delighted with this judgment’

LGB Alliance tweeted: “We are delighted that the tribunal found in our favour and that Mermaids and the LGBT Consortium have failed in their bid to remove our charitable status.”

Kate Barker, chief executive of LGB Alliance, said: “We are absolutely delighted with this judgment and with the news that we will retain our charitable status. 

“Two years ago, we were clear that Mermaids had no standing to challenge our registration and today the tribunal has confirmed that we were correct. 

“While this is a battle we did not seek, neither would we flee from it. But the cost to us and to our supporters has been huge. 

“Our legal fees amount to more than £250K and that money has come from small supporter donations. So, while our win is great news for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, we can't help but reflect on the fact that a sum like that would have been better spent on projects such as our Helpline for young people, our LGB Archive and our Friends' Network. 

“This case did, however, provide a welcome opportunity to talk about our work in a public  forum and we hope that the era of 'no debate' is over.” 

Barker added: “In a free society we must be free to disagree and we hold fiercely to that view. 

“We are relieved that this long, and sometimes bruising, process has reached an end and we thank all of our wonderful supporters and our brilliant legal team. 

“As to our detractors... They tried to run us ragged. They failed. We're happy that now the work goes on.” 

Mermaids: ‘We are taking legal advice on a possible appeal’

Mermaids said: “While we are disappointed by the finding that we did not have standing to bring the appeal, Mermaids is proud to have been able to speak up authentically for the trans community in court, and to have demonstrated that the LGBT+ sector is united in its trans-inclusive approach, which we believe to be a victory in itself. 

“We are also glad to see that the judges found that many of our concerns about LGBA were well-founded. They accepted, for example, our argument that some of  LGBA’s 'inflammatory and offensive' language had stepped outside the boundaries of civilised discourse, and our evidence that LGBA have in reality carried out few activities to promote the interests of the lesbian, gay and bisexual people they claim to serve. 

“One of the judges reached the same conclusion as us – that LGBA should never have been registered as a charity – while the other disagreed. We are pleased that these issues have been brought to light and that the need for ongoing scrutiny of LGBA’s conduct, by the public and by the Charity Commission, has been highlighted.

“This ruling has no reflection on Mermaids as an organisation, the work we do or the vital services we provide, which will continue. Our focus remains on channelling all of our energies into the urgent, critical challenges facing trans young people today. This includes demanding access to timely healthcare and robustly challenging forthcoming trans guidance for schools which, if reports are true, could have devastating consequences not only for trans children and young people, but any young person who doesn't conform to gender norms.

“We are taking legal advice on a possible appeal.”

Charity Commission welcomes judgment

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We welcome this judgment. As the judges confirm, it is not the Charity Commission’s role to regulate public debate on sensitive issues on which there are deeply held, sincere beliefs on all sides. Our role is to apply the law, and we consider that we did so in registering LGB Alliance as a charity. 

“All charities, ultimately, must deliver on their purposes for the public benefit. We understand both charities hold opposing views, but when engaging in public debate and campaigning, they should do so with respect and tolerance. Demonising and undermining those who think differently is not acceptable behaviour from any charity on our register.” 

The initial appeal was brought by Mermaids, a transgender rights charity, against the regulator’s decision to register LGB Alliance as a charity.

Mermaids’ appeal was supported by the Good Law Project, and the charity argued that LGB Alliance does not have charitable purposes or serve the public interest. It asked the tribunal to review whether it meets the legal tests to be a charity. 

LGB Alliance disputed Mermaids’ claims, stating that LGB Alliance’s purposes are charitable and that it exists for the public benefit. 

This is thought to be the first tribunal of its kind, where one charity has attempted to strip the legal status of another. 

The Charity Commission registered LGB Alliance as a charity in April 2021, despite noting that it used “inflammatory language” on social media. 

Last year the charity regulator opened a statutory inquiry into Mermaids, after identifying concerns about its governance and management. Mermaids also filed serious incident reports to the Commission, on a number of matters reported in the media.

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