Don’t let Government muzzle charities

by Good Law Project

Don’t let Government muzzle charities

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
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Latest: Oct. 11, 2021

They’re hijacking our institutions

We have now heard back from the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. Her predecessor demanded charities “rebalance” away from what he childishly called their “woke” age…

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Last weekend, the then Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, announced his intention to muzzle the third sector. In his blog about the process for appointing a new Chair of the Charity Commission - the Government’s regulator of charities - he complained about “a worrying trend in some charities that appear to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials”. He said the Chair will be selected based on how they  “rebalance” charities away from that agenda. And that Ministers will only appoint someone who does this.

It’s a chilling thought. What would a politically motivated regulator mean for food banks who push back against policies that mean people don’t have enough to eat? What would it mean for a housing charity which challenges legislation that leaves people without a roof over their head? What about charities that campaign against Government policies that could do untold damage by baking in racial injustice or poverty? Will these fit with the Government's views? 

Good Law Project is well aware from actual cases that these are not idle speculations. 

Together, through our taxes, we subsidise the activities of charities to the tune of £2bn a year. We give them this relief because they exist for “public benefit” - various types of do-gooding which Parliament wants to encourage. 

These things are not the same as pushing the political agenda of the Government of the day. You don’t get charitable tax relief if your activities are “political” - a term which the Charity Commission defines as including “furthering the interests of a particular political party.” This need for charities to stand outside party politics is also embedded in legislation made by Parliament: for example, the Charity Commission should not be subject to direction by the Secretary of State. 

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. 

Our public institutions exist to serve the public good - not the political whims of passing Governments. Anyone accepting an appointment following this flawed process should be very clear - we believe it is unlawful and will ask for it to be quashed.

Details:

Good Law Project has instructed Bindmans LLP and Jason Coppel QC and Katherine Eddy to act for it. They are being paid at significantly below market rates. You can read the letter to Oliver Dowden’s successor, Nadine Dorries, that formally starts the judicial review process here.

10% of the sums raised will go to the Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. If there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring. 

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Update 1

Good Law Project

Oct. 11, 2021

They’re hijacking our institutions

We have now heard back from the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. Her predecessor demanded charities “rebalance” away from what he childishly called their “woke” agenda. And said he wouldn’t appoint a new Chair of the Charity Commission – which regulates charities – unless they agreed. 

We think this is unlawful and have threatened to sue. We think it will cause enormous harm to charities if Government uses them as pawns in its culture war.

Remarkably Government has now backtracked – and claims it didn’t issue any instructions to the panel appointing the Chair. Square that, if you can, with what the Culture Secretary wrote on the Government’s website:

“I have instructed those leading the search to ensure that the new leader of the Commission will restore charities’ focus to their central purpose and empower Trustees to be robust”. 

This is yet another example of this Government’s shameless attempts to install its allies at the top of our public institutions. Government is already pushing hard to appoint former Daily Mail Editor, Paul Dacre, as the chair of Ofcom, despite the fact the first recruitment process found he was ‘unappointable’ because of anti-BBC views. Rather than accept that finding, the Government scrapped the recruitment process and is re-running it, which would allow the former editor of the Daily Mail to be interviewed again by a different panel.

We’re asking Ministers to come clean and hand over all communications between the Culture Secretary and the interview panel.

The case isn’t straightforward but the issues are important. If regulators aren’t neutral they can’t regulate – and this feels like the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

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