Under these proposals any charity pursuing JR and seeking help with legal costs, will have to disclose the names and financial information of all their members. In addition, if the charity uses more than £1,500 from an individual or funder to cover the legal costs those contributors too must be declared to the court.
The individuals and funders could then be called upon to pay the court costs should the charity lose its case – judges are directed that they must consider this option. The move is being seen as yet another attempt by Government to muzzle charities and deny the weakest in society a voice of challenge.
The charity leaders’ network ACEVO is backing calls that charities should be exempt from the Ministry of Justice’s proposals and will shortly be submitting its own response to the MoJ’s consultation website.1
The overwhelming effect of the reforms would be to introduce a massive chilling effect on charities’ ability or willingness to seek Judicial Review and severely damage the confidence of individuals and organisations in becoming members or donating funds in the first place.
Many charities by their very nature have membership among the most vulnerable communities – the disabled, children, the elderly, the sick – and the threat that membership of a charity may expose them to unexpected court costs above their original donations is a deterrence to participation.
Moreover, Judicial Review is central to the rule of law, ensuring that Government at all levels can be held to account for unlawful decisions. It would be a fundamental breach of justice to deny this right of challenge for the most vulnerable in our society.
And these reforms appear further to reinforce the overall drive by Government to restrict JR as an avenue of public redress.
Further, these reforms would be additional to the highly controversial Lobbying Act pushed through before the last General Election.
Consultation ends on 15 September 2015. For more information or for bids for interview please contact me.