Trustees of the Celestial Church of Christ v Lawson: guidance for charity trustees on several points

This recent decision covered a multitude of points which may be of interest for charity trustees.

The case related to an internal dispute in a charitable unincorporated association – the Celestial Church of Christ, Edward Street Parish – which escalated to the point at which “confrontational, aggressive and wholly inappropriate” behaviour was being exercised by the congregation, requiring police intervention, and which resulted in the removal of a trustee who was also the “Shepherd in charge” of the congregation.

The court considered:

  • the extent to which a collateral document can be used to aid the interpretation of a governing document of a registered charity, and the approach to be taken to interpretation if such a collateral document cannot be so used; and
  • the extent to which the rules of natural justice should apply to the process removing a trustee of a charity in a situation in which, it can be argued, no member of the charity is free from bias as regards the decision to remove the trustee.

In addition, it also looked at whether or not it was possible for a charity to bring an action for passing off, despite a lack of trading, and the employment status of a minister of religion.

David Catchpole, a specialist in charity litigation, has written a brief article setting out the main points from the decision here.

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