14 March 2012
A Statement by the RW Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes Michael Lawson concerning the Attorney General's Reference to the Charity Tribunal
Many of you will be aware that last year the Attorney General brought a case (known as a Reference) to the Charity Tribunal to determine a number of questions concerning Benevolent Fund Charities and whether their Charitable status was affected by the Charities Act 2006 - in particular by that Act's requirements relating to public benefit.
Some 1,400 Masonic Charitable Funds, almost entirely Lodge Benevolent Funds, were named in a Schedule to the Reference, although it was likely to affect nearly every Lodge or Chapter Benevolent Fund, of which we believe there are more than 4,000. The four main Masonic Charities were also concerned that they might be affected.
Accordingly the Board instructed a leading Firm of Solicitors, Farrer and Co, which has a specialist Charity Department, and a leading Chancery silk, Simon Taube QC, to look after the interests of Masonic Charities at the Hearing. The Board also arranged for a nominated Masonic Charity to be a party to the proceedings.
The issue before the Tribunal was whether the pre-existing case law that is authority for the charitable status of funds relieving poverty amongst a group of beneficiaries with a common link (e.g. where the beneficiaries are defined by a family relationship, a common employer or as in the case of Masonic Benevolent Funds membership of a body such as a Lodge) had been overturned by the public benefit requirements of the Charities Act 2006.
The Upper Tribunal has ruled unequivocally that the Charities Act 2006 has made no change to the law in that respect and that Charities for the prevention or relief of poverty amongst a group of beneficiaries defined in this way remain valid Charitable Trusts.
The decision was handed down shortly after the Board met in February. The Board will be considering the decision and whether any further guidance should be given and will report further to Grand Lodge in due course. For those who wish to read the decision we have put the following link on UGLE's website.
Finally, I draw your attention to the Charities Act 2011 which comes into effect today consolidating most of the Charities Acts 1992, 1993 and 2006 and the Recreational Charities Act 1958. It does not alter the existing law, but sets out in a more accessible form how Charities in England and Wales are registered and regulated, and is now the governing legislation for Charities.