Political purpose and charitable purpose are not
mutually exclusive. That's the view taken by the Supreme Court
in its decision on the Greenpeace of New Zealand Inc
(Greenpeace) dispute. This opens the gates for other
organisations with political purposes who seek charitable
Greenpeace has been in dispute with The Charities Board
(formerly the Charities Commission) for more than four years over
whether or not it is charitable. Its registration as a charity was
declined in 2010 because two of its key purposes - the promotion of
nuclear disarmament and peace; and the promotion of legislation
supporting its other objects - were viewed as political and
therefore non-charitable. The Commission also found that some of
Greenpeace's direct action potentially entailed illegal
activity which was contrary to public interest.
A political purpose can be anything that promotes a particular
political party; promotes legislative change, such as advocacy; or
promotes a change of national or foreign government policies.
Until now, New Zealand courts have abided by a blanket exclusion
from charitable purposes for political purposes, based on
relatively scant authority. Only if a political purpose was
ancillary to a charitable purpose, and not an independent purpose,
could an organisation still be charitable. This dispute has taken
Greenpeace through the High Court, Court of Appeal and now the
The Supreme Court has in the latest decision, by a narrow
majority, departed from existing common law and decided that a
political purpose is not automatically excluded from being a
Instead, the Court says that any purpose has to be assessed on
its merits - it needs to advance the public benefit in a way that
is within the spirit and intendment of historical categories of
charity but, importantly, must be adaptable to current day society.
The majority of the Court decided that the value placed on public
and democratic participatory process in administrative and judicial
decision making means there is no satisfactory basis for drawing a
distinction between general promotion of views and advocacy of law
This is consistent with the High Court of Australia's
decision in Commissioner of Taxation v
The Supreme Court's decision also involves the
interpretation of section 5(3) of the Charities Act. The Charities
Board considered that it codified the political purpose exclusion
but the Supreme Court disagreed. The majority in the Supreme Court
determined that New Zealand's Charities Act was not attempting
to codify what is and what is not charitable. Its intention was to
follow the 'case by case' basis operative before the
introduction of the Act and assess what is currently charitable by
analogy with what has historically been considered charitable. The
definition must be adaptable to the way society works, which means
that what is considered to be 'charitable' changes in
response to changing social conditions.
As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, the charitable
status of Greenpeace's objects have been referred back to the
Charities Board. The continuing challenge for Greenpeace is that
promoting 'nuclear disarmament and peace' is like promoting
an idea or abstraction. It is harder for them to show charitable
purpose as readily as someone who can show tangible good like
housing the homeless. The way in which they promote nuclear
disarmament is as important as the end itself and both of these
aspects will be the focus of the Board when it comes to reassess
1Aid/Watch Inc v Commissioner of
Taxation  HCA 42, (2010) 241 CLR 539.
The information in this article is for informative purposes
only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact
Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.
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The Hon'ble High Court of Bombay has held that where a Scheme of Amalgamation is executed between two companies registered in two different states [...], then the said two orders are two independent instruments.
Lawyers are pretty good at figuring it out quietly and amicably among themselves, without recourse to a public courtroom.
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