On 28 June 2022, the Supreme Court delivered its decision that Family First New Zealand does not advance a charitable purpose.

In doing so, the Court endorsed Te Rātā Atawhai, the Charities Registration Board’s (the Board) 2017 de-registration decision.

Under the Charities Act 2005, the Board is responsible for making decisions about the charitable status of organisations. In practice, the routine decisions are made by Charities Services, acting under the Board’s formal delegation and guidance. However, the Board itself always deals with the complex registration and de-registration decisions. If an entity disagrees with the Board’s decision, it can appeal through the courts.

In this case, Family First appealed the Board’s 2017 de-registration decision, and the Attorney-General appeared in the court in their traditional role as ‘protector of charities’. The Charity Law Association of Australia and New Zealand also appeared in the proceedings, reflecting the deep interest held by charities law specialists.

In its decision, the Supreme Court found that Family First did not have a charitable purpose to ‘advance education’, because its activities lacked balance and crossed the line between education and advocating for a viewpoint. The Court also found that Family First’s advocacy for the traditional family, to the disadvantage of other forms of family, was discriminatory, and thus was not compatible with charity.

The Court held that it was not possible to determine whether Family First’s engagement with other issues (e.g. abortion, assisted dying and censorship) was of public benefit in a charitable sense. This contrasts with registered charities’ rights to advocate for recognised charitable purposes (more information about what qualifies as charitable can be found here).

In its decision, the Supreme Court also confirmed that the Board must look at a charity’s activities when determining its purpose, as provided in the Charities Act 2005.

Alongside the Board, Charities Services has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, which provides clarity on important aspects of charities law.

For more information about this case, here are links to:
the Supreme Court’s press release about its judgment;
the judgment itself; and
the Board’s statement on the judgment.

Source – Charities Services Newsletter – August 2022