Independent Review of Charity Regulation

The Minister for Communities commissioned an Independent Review of Charity Regulation in NI, which commenced on 25 January 2021. The Review considered the Charities Act (NI) 2008 (the Act) and the roles of the Charity Commission and the Department thereunder. In particular, it was tasked with examining whether the Commission’s performance within the existing legal framework struck the right balance, in light of best practice, between supporting charities to do the right thing and deterring, or dealing with, misconduct, with the aim of making recommendations on changes that can be made to improve the delivery of services and the operation of the regulatory framework going forward. The Independent Panel has concluded its Review, further information of which is below.

The full Terms of reference are available on the DfC website.

Video on the Independent Review of Charity Regulation in Northern Ireland

The video below provides more information on the review.

Report: Independent Review of Charity Regulation NI

The Minister is thankful to the Independent Panel, which undertook a very comprehensive and inclusive engagement process and has delivered its Review Report with 93 recommendations on changes that could be considered to improve the delivery of services and the operation of the regulatory framework.   The Minister is considering the recommendations and the Department will publish its response and Action Plan in the coming weeks.

Read the Report for the Independent Review of Charity Regulation in NI

Review Timeline

Timeline

Development updates

12 April 2021

The Independent Panel met with representatives of Rural Charities and of Medium Sized charities; they were informative and constructive sessions which yielded good engagement and feedback. The Panel is thankful for the participation of all who attended and for NICVA's facilitation of these sessions. 

19 April 2021

This week the Independent Panel met with representatives of both large and small charities and with members of the general public in well-attended sessions that provided opportunities to hear the insights and experiences of charity trustees, charity employees and members of the general public who volunteer with or support charities. The panel was invited to meet with representatives of 2 charities, LNR & DPOANI. The meeting was facilitated by Robbie Butler MLA. The Panel is thankful for the participation of all who attended these various meetings and for NICVA’s facilitation of the webinar series.

26 April 2021

This week the Independent Panel met with representatives of those who professionally advise charities – lawyers, accountants and members of the Developing Governance Group. The lawyers’ engagement session was facilitated by the Charity Law Association while the accountants’ session was facilitated by the Ulster Society of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. The Panel met with funders of charities to hear how charity regulation is working from their perspective and later in the week, the Panel hosted a second engagement webinar for the general public.  In addition to these sessions, the Panel also met with officials and board members of the Irish Charities Regulatory Authority and with the Chief Commissioner and Charity Commissioners for Northern Ireland.  The Panel is thankful for the participation of all who attended these various meetings and to the Charity Law Association, the Ulster Society of Chartered Accountants in Ireland and NICVA for facilitating this week’s webinar sessions.

The independent review panel

The independent panel was led by Dr Oonagh B. Breen, a Professor of Law at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin.  She will be joined on the panel by Rev Dr Lesley Carroll, Prisoner Ombudsman NI and Noel Lavery, former Permanent Secretary in the NICS.

Dr Oonagh B. Breen

Dr Oonagh B. Breen

Dr Breen is a Professor of Law at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin. A graduate of UCD and Yale Law School, her research focuses on comparative charity law regulation and governance. She has worked with the non-profit sector, charity regulators and policymakers in a number of jurisdictions (including Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). Oonagh is President of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) and a member of the international advisory council to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL).  She is the author of the Enlarging the Space for European Philanthropy Report (DAFNE & EFC, 2018) and co-author of Breen and Smith, Law of Charities in Ireland (Bloomsbury, 2019).

Rev Dr Lesley Carroll

Rev Dr Lesley Carroll

Rev Dr Carroll is the NI Prisoner Ombudsman. She was the former Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission and worked at Victim Support NI. Lesley worked for 25 years as a Presbyterian Minister in North Belfast and focussed on linking congregation and community organisations to achieve change. She is a Board member at two local charities: Forum for Cities in Transition Belfast and The Presbyterian Children’s Society. Lesley’s interest outside of work is resilience and she is a Community Resiliency Model trainer.

Noel Lavery

Noel Lavery

Noel was formerly Permanent Secretary of a number of NICS Departments before retiring from the Department for the Economy in November 2019. The first 15 years of his career were in the private sector and he has been a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland since 1995. He is a board member of two local charities; Big House (Ireland) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

 

Frequently asked questions

Why was there a need for a review?

The February 2020 Court of Appeal judgment which dismissed the Appeal by the Charity Commission against Madam Justice McBride’s High Court Judgment of May 2019 found that the Charity Commissioners were the body corporate, “the Commission”, and that they do not have implied or express power to delegate their functions to staff acting alone. This means that decisions previously taken by the staff of the Commission are now unlawful. 

Through Minister’s engagement with sectoral representatives it was established that in addition to addressing the immediate issues negatively impacting charities as a direct result of the Court judgments, a wider review of charity regulation would be welcome. 

What did the review consider?

Read the Terms of Reference for the Review.  

Did the Review assess the decisions which the Charity Commission staff took prior to the May 2019 McBride High Court decision?

The Review did not revisit decisions in individual cases but did examine the legal and regulatory framework and the performance of the current regulator within it. The role of the Department was also examined. The Review focused on learning from past experience in order to inform future development. The panel made recommendations on changes to improve the delivery of services and the operation of the regulator going forward. The Terms of Reference detail the particulars of the scope of the review. 

Separately the Board of the Commission commissioned a review by Independent Counsel into the actions taken by the Commission in relation to two specific statutory inquiries. The outcome of this review provided some of the assurances sought by the Department in relation to the actions of the Commission at the time of the relevant statutory inquiries and what lessons have been learned. The Terms of Reference for that Review can be found on the Commission’s website. 

How was the independent panel convened?

The panel was appointed by the Minister for Communities on the basis of their experience and expertise, which includes a deep understanding of charity regulation, charity law, the community and charitable sector, and good corporate governance.

When can I submit my views?

The closing date for submissions through the online questionnaire was 12 May 2021. Thank you to all who participated and provided vital information to inform the Panel’s recommendations to Minister.

When will the review report be published?

The report has been published and is available on the DfC website. 

How much did the review cost?

The review cost approximately £111k. 

If you have any queries please contact CharitiesBranch@communities-ni.gov.uk

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