IN THE CHARITY TRIBUNAL FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
APPEALS NUMBERS [12-20/14]
IN THE MATTER OF APPEALS AGAINST AND APPLICATIONS FOR A REVIEW OF DECISIONS OF THE CHARITY COMMISSION FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
ROBERT CRAWFORD; ELAINE HAMPTON; WILLIAM ALLEN; GORDON KNOWLES; STEPHEN McALISTER
DISABLED POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION OF NORTHERN IRELAND
1. This hearing had been arranged at the direction of the Tribunal to consider interlocutory matters, set out further below, in respect of the above-mentioned applications and appeals.
2. Mr Robert Crawford appeared in person. Ms Elaine Hampton, Mr William Allen and Mr Gordon Knowles were represented by Mr Malachy McGowan, of Counsel. Mr Keith Gamble, Solicitor, appeared on behalf of Mr Stephen McAlister. Mr David McMillen QC appeared on behalf of the Disabled Police Officers Association of Northern Ireland. Mr Frank O’Donoghue QC appeared on behalf of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland in all the appeals and applications.
3. At the outset of the hearing, the Chairman asked the parties to note that this was an interlocutory hearing aimed at ensuring that all preparatory steps were taken in order to ensure that the appeals and applications were in a state of readiness by the time they came before a panel for final determination at a future date.
4. The Chairman outlined a number of issues which were to addressed: (i) whether any applications/appeals which were out of time should be admitted; (ii) whether the applications/appeals should be consolidated; (iii) Mr Crawford’s application to exclude certain evidence; (iv) Mr Crawford’s requests for further information and documents; (v) matters relating to the ultimate hearing, including completion of responses to appeals; completion of the exchange of documents; and the filing of witness statements.
5. Once the Chairman had outlined that broad agenda, some of the parties indicated they were not in a position to address the first matter i.e. whether the time limits should be extended in respect of those appeals/applications which were late. Mr McMillen QC, Mr McGowan and Mr Gamble stated that they had not been aware that that issue was to be substantively addressed today. This was despite the fact that Tribunal had sent an email to the parties on Friday 21 November 2014 confirming that the parties should be ready to address that issue today.
6. During the course of submissions relating to this matter, a different but related point emerged. Mr McMillen QC alluded to what appeared to be the prospect of a challenge by the Respondent to the right of DPOANI to prosecute the application for a review which had been launched in the name of that body. What this point appeared to relate to was the fact that since the time when the DPOANI had launched that application/appeal, there had been a change in the composition of the DPOANI governing body, as a result of the Respondent suspending some trustees and appointing additional trustees.
7. In the light of these points, the Tribunal rose for a time to allow the parties to consider how they wished to proceed, subject to the Tribunal’s consent. When the Tribunal sat again, Mr McMillen QC made an application to adjourn the hearing of the question as to whether the Tribunal should extend the time limit to allow the DPOANI to challenge the Respondent’s decision to initiate an inquiry into the DPOANI under Section 22 of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008. He said that in the period since the Tribunal had risen, he had spoken with his solicitors who had informed him that the papers which they had to hand did not include the documents relating to the period before the initiation of inquiry. Mr McMillen QC also said that, with permission of the other parties’ representatives, he had spoken to their clients about the inquiry issue. He had also spoken with Mr Crawford. The purpose of those discussions had been to ascertain what oral evidence could be given today. Mr McMillen QC indicated that those short discussions had presented him with a substantial amount of information, including as to the existence of documents which were not to hand. Mr McMillen QC said that if pressed, he could put evidence before the Tribunal, but it would not be in a satisfactory state.
8. Mr Crawford was then invited to set out his position. He said that his preference was to try to deal with matters today. However he too said that he did not have to hand all the documents which would support his application to extend time. Mr Crawford said that he accepted the proposition advanced by Mr McMillen QC, albeit reluctantly.
9. Mr McGowan said that he endorsed the application made by Mr McMillen QC. Mr Gamble queried whether it would be possible to deal with his client’s application to extend time in respect of his appeal, given (i) that that appeal was not concerned with the review issue and (ii) Mr O’Donoghue QC had indicated that his client would not be making any contrary submissions in respect of that application.
10. Mr O’Donoghue did not make any submissions opposing the application for an adjournment.
11. At the conclusion of the submissions, the Chairman reiterated that it was disappointing that, despite the Tribunal having stated in advance what was to be dealt with at today’s hearing, some of the parties had not made the necessary preparations. However the Chairman accepted what he was being told as to some of the parties not being a position to proceed.
12. The Chairman said that he was prepared to adjourn the matter but any reconvened hearing would have to take place as soon as possible and in any event before the Christmas holidays. He was particularly mindful of the impact upon the individual appellants/applicants of the orders which had been made in respect of them. He noted that some of the periods of suspension had already expired.
13. The Chairman further said that the parties would have to exchange witness statements, skeleton arguments and authorities in respect of extension of time applications, within a short time frame.
14. The Chairman also referred to the possible challenge by the Respondent to the right of the DPOANI to prosecute the application/appeal that earlier had been issued in its name. The Chairman emphasised that he was not inviting any such application. The point, rather, was that if the Respondent was going to make such an application, it should do so now, and bring it on for hearing at the same time as the extension of time applications. It would be entirely unsatisfactory for the Respondent to fail to make that application at an early stage, and then seek to make it later. Indeed the Chairman noted that it might be argued that such an approach might be objected to as an abuse of process or on grounds of estoppel.
15. Submissions were then received as to whether the other matters on the agenda could be dealt with today, or whether they should be dealt with at the reconvened hearing. The other matters were (a) Mr Crawford’s request for details of the alleged conflict of interest; (b) Mr Crawford’s request for documents; (c) Mr Crawford’s request to exclude evidence; and (c) Mr McAlister’s application to extend time for his appeal.
16. The Chairman indicated that he did not wish to deal with the requests for details and the request for disclosure in a vacuum. The Chairman noted that the Respondent had indicated a willingness to provide the details and some of the documents sought. Accordingly, for so long as the parties were addressing those issues, any order at this stage might be unnecessary. He preferred to await the reconvened hearing before giving further directions. The Chairman encouraged the parties to co-operate in the exchange of information.
17. As regards the requests to exclude evidence, the Chairman made clear that, although he had not made a final decision on the point, he was not inclined at an interlocutory hearing to make decisions as to the admissibility of evidence at a full hearing. That sort of decision should probably be made by a full panel. Mr Crawford responded by saying that his concern was that the Respondent may be unnecessarily and improperly accessing information in order to build a case. The Chairman responded to that assertion by reminding the Respondent of its obligations as to (inter alia) transparency, consistency and accountability under Section 9(2)4 of the 2008 Act. The Chairman also noted that in considering whether orders as to suspension etc. could be upheld, the Tribunal was entitled to and would look at the fairness of the processes which the Respondent had undertaken.
18. With respect to Mr McAlister’s appeal, the Chairman said that that too should be dealt with at the next hearing. The Chairman suggested that Messrs Holmes & Moffitt write to the Respondent setting out the evidential basis for the application for an extension of time, and ask that that be admitted in evidence by agreement. On the assumption that that is agreed, the Chairman indicated that the application will be capable of being disposed of quickly.
19. The following directions were made:
a. Today’s hearing is adjourned;
b. The hearing will reconvene on Wednesday 10 December 2014 at 10.30am at the Lands Tribunal Courtroom, in the Royal Courts of Justice.
c. The Tribunal will consider the following issues:
i. All applications to extend time for the making of applications for reviews and/or appeals against decisions of the Respondent;
ii. Any application as to the standing of any party to prosecute an appeal/application.
iii. Whether appeals/applications should be consolidated ;
iv. Applications for particulars;
v. Applications for disclosure of documents;
vi. Applications to exclude evidence;
vii. Fixing of a hearing date and, to that end, exchange of witness statements etc.
viii. Any other interlocutory applications or matters.
d. With respect to c.i. above:
i. All persons applying to extend time to have admitted a late application/appeal in respect of the Respondent’s decision to initiate a Section 22 Inquiry must serve on the Respondent, by close of business on 1 December 2014, any witness statements, exhibits, skeleton arguments and authorities relied upon in making such application;
ii. In response to such application, the Respondent must serve on the Applicants/Appellants, by close of business on 8 December 2014, any witness statements, exhibits, skeleton arguments and authorities relied upon in resisting such application.
e. With respect to c.ii. above:
i. Any application to challenge a party’s standing to prosecute any appeal or application must be issued and served by close of business on 1 December 2014, such application to be supported by witness statements, exhibits, skeleton arguments and authorities relied upon in making such application;
ii. In response to such application, any party must serve on the party making the application, by close of business on 8 December 2014, any witness statements, exhibits, skeleton arguments and authorities relied upon in resisting such application.
f. Any other interlocutory applications must be communicated in writing to the relevant parties, in accordance with the Rules.
g. The parties are to provide the Tribunal with a composite, agreed, indexed and paginated hearing bundle by noon on 9 December 2014.
Mr A Colmer (Chairman)
NI Charity Tribunal
24 November 2014