In McKee & Hughes v The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland  NICA 13, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal ruled that the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 does not empower any member or members of staff of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to exercise any of the Commission’s statutory powers or to discharge any of its statutory duties or functions  and dismissed the CCNI’s appeal against the ruling and order of McBride J in the court below .
As a result, the CCNI has posted a legal update on the issues arising from the judgment. In brief:
- the judgment does not prevent any organisation which is a charity in law from operating as a charity;
- whether or not an organisation is a charity in law is determined by the wording of its governing document;
- registration, as required by the law, recognises that an organisation is a charity, but does not make it a charity;
- a charity is a charity because it was established for charitable purposes.
The Commission’s work and oversight of the charity sector are continuing while a permanent solution is being sought. While some Commission decisions may be delayed and the volume of decisions made has been temporarily reduced, everyone can be assured that work on applications, requests and queries is ongoing. Furthermore, all organisations/groups that have been contacted by the Commission – for example, to apply for charity registration – must submit their applications as normal and by the set deadline.
The critical point is that the judgment is about registration and the power of the Commission to delegate to its staff, not about whether or not a particular organisation is a charity. As in England & Wales, a charity in Northern Ireland is bound to observe charity law, whether it is registered or not.