Legal Advice from Luke Patel of Blacks Solicitors
The High Court has found two former trustees of the Charity based in Bristol known as the Darren Wright Foundation which raises funds to support families of people with disabilities and life limiting illnesses to be in contempt of Court.
In the case of Charity Commission v Wright & Another the Charity Commission (the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales) had made an application to the High Court seeking a ruling that Susan and Raymond Wright had acted in contempt of court by failing to comply with an order to supply them with evidence and documentation.
Following complaints by members of the public, including from families of beneficiaries of the charity, that they faced difficulties in communicating with the charity and accessing funds which had been raised on behalf of their family members.
The Commission opened a statutory enquiry into the charity in November 2017 and began investigating. The administration, governance and management of the charity by the trustees and specifically whether the trustees had:
- acted in the charity’s best interests in accordance with their duties and responsibilities;
- responsibly managed the charity’s finances; and
- worked to avoid or manage conflicts of interest.
- The extent to which the charity had operated in furtherance of its charitable purposes for the public benefit.
- Whether any issues or weaknesses in the administration of the charity were as a result of misconduct and/or mismanagement by the trustees.
As part of that investigation the Commission served Directions on the trustees requiring them to provide information and documentation about the charity and those Directions were endorsed with a penal notice. However, the trustees failed to comply and the Commission therefore brought proceedings against the trustees for acting in contempt of court.
The High Court has powers to deal with an individual found to be disobeying a Direction of the Commission as if they had disobeyed a High Court Order and they can be found to be in contempt of court and the same criminal penalties would apply (the Court can impose a custodial sentence of up to two years).
The Judge found that the trustees had failed to comply with most of the Commission’s Directions. He also concluded that it was proper to hear the application in the trustees’ absence (they had failed to attend the hearing).
The judge did however adjourn the decision on the penalty to be imposed on the trustees to a further hearing thereby giving them another opportunity to comply with the Commission’s Directions. He also ordered that the trustees to be arrested and brought to court if they failed to attend at the further hearing.
This is the first time the Commission has pursued such a case through the courts. By pursuing contempt of court proceedings against the trustees, the Commission has shown that it is prepared to fully investigate wrongdoing by charities and their trustees.
If you are involved in any dispute relating to a charity then Blacks Solicitors have specialist lawyers who will be able to assist. Contact Luke Patel on 0113 2279316 or by email at LPatel@LawBlacks.com