London – The advocacy group CAGE has today commenced judicial review proceedings against the Charity Commission for what it believes is an unlawful exercise of powers in the wake of the Mohammed Emwazi case and the subsequent pressure exerted by the Commission on charities associated with CAGE.
After the publicity CAGE received around Emwazi, it claims that the Charity Commission acted outside of its powers by exerting unlawful pressure on charities not to fund or associate with CAGE, despite CAGE not being a charity itself. As a result CAGE is finding it much more difficult to fund its advocacy and charities have been deterred from sharing a platform with it.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust issued a press release stating that they had been pressured by the Charity Commission not to fund CAGE ever again. CAGE also became aware of other charities that were questioned about sharing a platform with them.
The Charity Commission is exceeding its role as a regulator.
This is underlined by the announcement in April that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations would review the Commission, because of an “accusation that as appointees of the government of the day they [the commissioners] are in some way politically biased.”
The perception of political motivations infringes upon the rights of charities in general, who may be chilled into silence by a regulator that is liable to clamp down on them when they do not align with what is seen to be its politics.
Zoe Nicola of HMA Solicitors said:
“The statement published by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust clearly states that its decision to rule out any future funding to CAGE regardless of any changing circumstances was due to intense regulatory pressure. Such interference on the part of the Charity Commission was in excess of its powers. These actions curtailed our Client’s freedoms of expression and association and was made unfairly and without any prior notice to our Client. This raises concerns that our Client is being penalised for engaging in a debate and expressing views which may have been unpopular with the government. 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.”
Ibrahim Mohamoud, CAGE Communications Officer, said:
“This case is an important test case for the charity sector. At a time when the Commission is being given more powers, it is important that it does not deviate from its crucial role as an impartial regulator and become an instrument of state policy in a political agenda against unpopular causes.”
“Charities must be able to function with a regulator that does not create a climate of fear and undermine the fundamental freedoms of expression and association. In recent years, the Charity Commission appears to be assuming the role of Counter-Terrorism Police, rather than a charity sector regulator.”