Northern Ireland news

Charity Commission decision-making approach 'incompatible with legislation'

The Charity Commission
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT was warned a charity watchdog's approach to decision-making was "incompatible" with legislation years before issues were raised in a court ruling.

A report on the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) in 2016 has only recently been released in a heavily redacted form.

The review heard from Attorney General John Larkin, who it said "came to the view that CCNI's approach to decision-making is incompatible with existing legislation, specifically that decisions made by staff and not commissioners may not be valid".

Last year the High Court ruled that CCNI cannot delegate decision-making powers to staff acting alone.

The court held that the legislation means the watchdog can only reach determinations when it meets as a complete body.

Madam Justice McBride described the case as having vital importance for the public at large.

CCNI said it was never sent the report by the Department for Communities (DfC) and it is now "out of date and not relevant to the current circumstances".

The 2016 review by DfC official Arthur Scott was commissioned by former communities minister Paul Givan.

A redacted draft from December that year was released to The Irish News following a Freedom of Information request.

The report found casework files were "often in poor order and demonstrate an incomplete and on occasions inadequate audit trail in recording decisions taken".

An assessment had found the task of formally registering all charities in Northern Ireland could take up to 20 more years to complete, it said.

The review said CCNI operates "overall as an effective body, but that the current approach to regulation is causing unsustainable pressure on current resources".

It also found "limited evidence of proactive departmental oversight".

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, who has been critical of CCNI after it examined his involvement in a community group, said the Scott review "raises serious issues".

He also questioned the justification for the many redactions made to the report before its release by DfC.

CCNI said the review was never completed or shared with it by the department.

A spokeswoman added: "The current communities minister has confirmed the process is closed as the report is now out of date and not relevant to the current circumstances.

"The report is not a live document and there are no final recommendations for the commission to consider."

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