A decision of the UK First-Tier Tribunal (Charity) has been
released that will be of interest to charities in Canada,
particularly those engaged in the promotion of human rights and
upholding of the law.
The Human Dignity Trust (HDT) applied to the Charity Commission
of England and Wales for charitable status. The purposes of
the HDT are:
2. The objects of
the company are for the public benefit:
2.1 to promote and
protect human rights (as set out in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and subsequent United Nations conventions and
declarations) throughout the world, and in particular (but without
2.1.1 the rights
to human dignity and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment;
2.1.2 the right to
privacy and to personal and social development; and
2.1.3 to promote
the sound administration of the law.
HDT helps local groups and individuals challenge through test
case litigation the legality of laws that criminalize private
consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex, wherever
those laws exist in the world. HDT argues that all countries must
obey international law once they have ratified an international
human rights treaty. Thus, national criminal laws of such
nations must conform with international human rights obligations,
as well as with constitutional law norms (which require nations to
take into account international human rights law in the
interpretation of their domestic constitutions) and rule of law
The Charity Commission refused to register HDT. It
concluded that HDT's objects were too vague and uncertain for
the Commission to be certain that HDT was established for
exclusively charitable purposes. The Commission also argued
that HDT had a political purpose which precludes charitable status
– namely, that of seeking to change the law of foreign
states. In reaching this decision, the Commission went to
great lengths to endorse the work of HDT and recognized its
philanthropic efforts. It should also be noted that it is
generally recognized that the promotion and protection of human
rights is charitable.
HDT appealed the Commission's decision and the Tribunal
hearing the appeal disagreed with the reasoning of the Commission
and ordered that the Commission rectify the register and include
HDT as a charity. The Tribunal refused to accept that
there was anything 'vague' about HDT's charitable
objects or purposes. The Tribunal also went on to confirm
that HDT had no political purpose.
While the decision contains many interesting comments about how
to consider whether a particular purpose is charitable in the UK,
the comments made by the Tribunal about HDT's "political
purpose" will be of particular interest given the current
heightened interest in the role charities play in public discourse
While the Commission was concerned that the test litigation
brought by HDT amounted to activities that promoted a change in the
law and therefore constituted an uncharitable parallel political
purpose, the Tribunal disagreed. In doing so, the Tribunal
confirmed that it is appropriate to use litigation to achieve a
charitable purpose. This is useful to many organizations that
use litigation to achieve their mission.
The Tribunal also found that in circumstances where the
litigation is challenging a law on the basis that it is contrary to
a commitment under an international treaty or constitutional law to
uphold human rights, such challenges would not be considered
evidence of a "political" purpose. The Tribunal
"We find on the
evidence before us that HDT is concerned with the promotion of
human rights by establishing whether particular laws are valid,
through a process of constitutional interpretation. We find that
this process falls entirely outside the categories of activity
considered by Slade J in McGovern". [McGovern v AG  Ch
The Tribunal supports this distinction by recognizing the
difference between circumstances where the activity relates to
changing a domestic law through pressure on parliament, on one
hand, and circumstances where the constitution provides a scheme
against which all laws of a country are to be tested, on the
other. The Tribunal described as acceptable charitable
activity, litigation in a context where there is constitutional
supremacy and a legitimate role for the court in interpreting and
enforcing superior constitutional rights where the domestic law is
thought to be in conflict with those rights.
The Human Dignity Trust case, both at the Commission level and
on appeal, demonstrate the depth and complexity of charity law in
today's world. Whether this decision will be relevant to
Canadian cases in the future will be determined with time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Under the Income Tax Act, the Employment Insurance Act, and the Excise Tax Act, a director of a corporation is jointly and severally liable for a corporation's failure to deduct and remit source deductions or GST.
Under the Income Tax Act, the Employment Insurance Act, the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Excise Tax Act, a director of a corporation is jointly and severally liable for a corporation's failure to deduct and remit source deductions.
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