More “Charitable” Interpretations?

September 16, 2014 in General

In September 2014, the New Zealand Law Journal caught up with the New Zealand Supreme Court’s recent Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Inc [2014] NZ Supreme Court 105 and noted that organisations that have political objectives have no barriers to obtaining charitable status under the Charities Act 2005. Beforehand, charitable status was restricted primarily to the advancement of religion, advancement of education, poverty relief and ameliorative or beneficial community welfare purposes. If political advocacy was undertaken, it needed to be directly tied to the central organisational purpose and service provision to its client base. In Re Greenpeace, the Supreme Court argues that political advocacy is a¬† ‘public good’. Beforehand, the High Court and Court of Appeal had upheld the prior interpretation of the Charities Act 2005 and the Charities Commission and Charities Registration Board were diligent in excluding any organisation from charitable status for whom political advocacy occurred at the cost of direct service provision.¬† However, while Chief Justice Sian Elias joined two of her colleagues in a majority (3-2) Supreme Court bench decision, it was a narrow one. Parliament may eventually decided otherwise during its next session after the forthcoming elections.

In Canada, charities law meets a different test- service provision and political neutrality as opposed to outright political advocacy, although no such differentiation occurs in our Charities Act 2005. In our context, Sue Barker has argued that our prior charitable ¬†legislative and regulatory regime was narrowly framed toward an almost ‘exclusive’ definition of charitable purpose, and is still related to the charities’ core ethos and service orientation. Barker questioned the limited scope of such exclusions before the Greenpeace Supreme Court case (op.cit).¬†¬† Charitable purpose and intent appear to be derived primarily from organisational constitutions and other core foundational documents, which assist regulatory bodies and courts to assess core charitable orientation and objectives.¬† There is thus a question of law here. Greenpeace may be entitled to charitable status, as are other service-centred charities that have only ancillary political purposes. Therefore, is Family First entitled to the resumption of its charitable status?

Source:¬† Alice Poole: “Scope of Charity: Re Greenpeace [2014] New Zealand Supreme Court” New Zealand¬† Law Journal (September 2014): 105-6.

Sue Barker: “The Myth of Charitable Activities”: New Zealand Law Journal (September 2014): 304-308.