Monday, January 5, 2009

Charity Board & Charity Commission Collide Over Religious Mission and Governance

ThirdSector reports that a Charity Commission for England and Wales investigation into whether a Catholic hospital charity was complying with its governing documents has led to a wholesale change in the membership of the charity's board and other significant governance changes.  The dispute with the SS John and Elizabeth Charity, that operates a hospital in London's St John's Wood, arose out of complaints from Catholics that the charity was planning to sublet part of its premises to general practitioners who prescribe contraceptives.  According to its report, the Charity Commission initially blocked the sublet on the grounds that it violated a provision in the charity's governing documents requiring it to operate in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching and traditions.  During the course of its initial investigation, the Charity Commission became particularly concerned with numerous apparent governance problems, including a lack of cooperation of board members with the investigation and serious disagreements between both board members and the board and senior managers.  The Charity Commission eventually decided the sublet could proceed, but during the course of its investigation and inquiry ten board members resigned in protest or were not reappointed.  The board is also now in the process of adopting a new code of ethics and a revised business plan.

LHM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2009/01/charity-board-c.html

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Comments

The complaints about this Hospital were that it was inviting in a Government funded general practice (GP) which would be under contract with the Government to make referrals for abortion and provide family planning services unacceptable in terms of Catholic ethics which the Hospital was bound to follow under its constitution. When applying for permission to the Charity Commission to raise money to fund this development the Hospital assured the Charity Commission that the GP practice would fully comply with Catholic ethics. This was simply not true as they agreed to allow them to opt out of following the Code of Ethics where it conflicted with their contract with the Government funders. The Charity Commission say they were misled. Effectively what has happened is that a GP practice, indifferent to Catholic ethics, have gained entrance as a result of a conspiracy. Can this happen with impunity? Has a criminal offence been committed? Section 11 of the Charities Act 1993 would seem to be relevant as might certain sections of the Theft Act 1968 - ss 15 and following.

Posted by: Nicolas Bellord | Jan 6, 2009 9:56:08 AM

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