Advocacy group CAGE has started legal action against the Charity Commission over the pressure that was put on its funders after it said that Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) was radicalised by the security services.
Since CAGE’s Asim Qureshi made the comments in February the organisation has found it more and more difficult to fund its work and is now claiming that the Commission’s actions were politically-motivated.
In a press release today CAGE said that judicial review proceedings had begun for what it believes was an “unlawful exercise of powers in the wake of the Mohammed Emwazi case and the subsequent pressure exerted by the Commission on charities associated with CAGE.”
After the overwhelmingly negative publicity CAGE received after they made their comments about Emwazi, CAGE claims the Charity Commission acted outside of its powers by exerting “unlawful pressure on charities not to fund or associate with CAGE, despite CAGE not being a charity itself”
The CAGE statement continues: “As a result CAGE is finding it much more difficult to fund its advocacy and charities have been deterred from sharing a platform with it.
“The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust issued a press release stating that they had been pressured by the Charity Commission not to fund CAGE ever again. CAGE also became aware of other charities that were questioned about sharing a platform with them.
“The Charity Commission is exceeding its role as a regulator. This is underlined by the announcement in April that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations would review the Commission, because of an accusation that as appointees of the government of the day they [the commissioners] are in some way politically biased.
“The perception of political motivations infringes upon the rights of charities in general, who may be chilled into silence by a regulator that is liable to clamp down on them when they do not align with what is seen to be its politics.”
Zoe Nicola of HMA Solicitors said: “The statement published by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust clearly states that its decision to withdraw current and future funding to CAGE was due solely to intense and concerted regulatory pressure. Such interference on the part of the Charity Commission was in excess of its powers.
“These actions curtailed our Client’s freedoms of expression and association and was made unfairly and without any prior notice to our Client. This raises concerns that our Client is being penalised for engaging in a debate and expressing views which may have been unpopular with the government.
“The actions of the Charity Commission in this instance will have a chilling effect on the ability of third sector and charitable organisations to engage in controversial debates and are counter-productive.”
Ibrahim Mohamoud, CAGE Communications Officer, added: “This case is an important test case for the charity sector. At a time when the Commission is being given more powers, it is important that it does not deviate from its crucial role as an impartial regulator and become an instrument of state policy in a political agenda against unpopular causes.
“CAGE’s mission is linked to preserving the Rule of Law. It is with this objective in mind that we have taken the decision to ensure the politicisation of the sector is reversed.
“Charities must be able to function with a regulator that does not create a climate of fear and undermine the fundamental freedoms of expression and association. In recent years, the Charity Commission appears to be assuming the role of Counter-Terrorism Police, rather than a charity sector regulator.
“The best way to hold power to account is to have a strong civil society being able to ask the questions others are scared to ask, and to support difficult causes.
“The Charity Commission claims to act in the interests of the public, however public interest should never be dictated by the scaremongering of the mainstream media; this would mean that the rule of the mob was applied rather than the rule of law.”
The Charity Commission
The statement admitted that CAGE was not a charity but had been in part funded by British charities and was concerned that such funding risked damaging public trust and confidence in charity.
The statement continued: “As a result, since December 2013 we have been engaged with two charities, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and The Roddick Foundation, which have funded CAGE.
“We scrutinised each charity’s relationship with CAGE during this period, including analysing whether the grants were appropriate and whether the trustees had ensured that their charitable grants were used for exclusively charitable purposes in line with their charity’s objects.
“The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust confirmed to us that it made grant awards to CAGE of £305,000 between 2007 and 2014. Of this, £271,250 was paid over. The Roddick Foundation confirmed that it made grant payments to CAGE of £120,000 between 2009 and 2012.
“Last week, public statements by CAGE officials heightened concerns about the use of charitable funds to support their activities.
“In our view, those statements increased the threat to public trust and confidence in charity and raised clear questions for a charity considering funding CAGE’s activities as to how the trustees of those charities could comply with their legal duties as charity trustees.
“In these circumstances, the Commission took robust action and on Monday 2 March 2015 required further unequivocal assurances from the two charities that they have ceased funding CAGE and had no intention of doing so in the future.
“The Roddick Foundation provided all the assurances within 24 hours as requested, stating that it has not funded CAGE since December 2012; it gave assurances that it has no further payment pending and no intention or proposal to fund CAGE in the future.
“The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust did not provide all the assurances within 24 hours. It did confirm that it last made a grant payment to CAGE in January 2014, that no further payments would be made under the 2011 grant, that no funding proposals were under consideration, that the Trust had no current plans to fund Cage and that no further grants would be made without written consultation with the commission.
“However, it did not initially provide an unequivocal assurance that the Trust would not make any future grant to CAGE under any circumstances. Yesterday, the Trust stated that this was an extremely difficult decision to make, but in the interests of all its grantees and the other work of the Trust, the trustees confirmed that they have decided to give the commission an assurance that it will not fund CAGE either now or in the future.”