Statutory definition of charity debate

This timeline tracks key events in the debate about the definition of charity.

1891-07-20 00:00:00

Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel

Ruled that the reference in tax legislation to charity should be read in light of the common law definition of charity, which included four 'heads': the relief of poverty, the advancement of education and religion, and 'other purposes beneficial to the community'.

1920-03-01 00:00:00

Colwyn Commission

United Kingdom, Royal Commission on Income Tax, Report (Cmd 615). Recommended specific re-definition and considered that it should be restricted to charities affecting people with small incomes or relieving the burden of the State, although noted it had not taken evidence and there may be a serious effect on existing institutions.

1926-03-18 00:00:00

Young Men's Christian Association of Melbourne v Federal Commissioner of Taxation

Isaacs J here expressed his support for a more restrictive view of charity to be enacted. This prompted the insertion of the term 'public benevolent institution' in the tax legislation.

1933-12-01 00:00:00

Bentwich's proposal

Norman Bentwich, 'The Wilderness of Legal Charity' (1933) 49 Law Quarterly Review 520. He proposed aligning the popular and legal definition in statute. He did not propose a specific provision but rather approved a broad provision focusing on the unselfish and public nature of the attributes.

1936-04-01 00:00:00

Income Tax Codification Committee

Income Tax Codification Committee, Report (Cmd 5131). Chaired by Baron McMillan. Considered it 'impractical' to adopt a statutory definition of charity.

1945-12-01 00:00:00

Brunyate's proposal

John Brunyate, 'The Legal Definition of Charity' (1945) 61 Law Quarterly Review 268. He proposed a judicial redefinition and clarification of the term public benefit.

1949-01-01 00:00:00

Keeton's proposal

G W Keeton, 'The Charity Muddle' (1949) 2 Current Legal Problems 86. He rejected Brunyate's approach as too didactic, but suggested a periodic restatement by the House of Lords. He saw no value in enacting the common law classification.

1952-12-01 00:00:00

Nathan Committee

United Kingdom, Report of the Committee on the Law and Practice relating to Charitable Trusts (Cmd 8710). Favoured a statutory classification along similar lines to the common law to improve accessibility. The proposal was not adopted.

1955-06-01 00:00:00

Radcliffe Report

United Kingdom, Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income. It expressed concern at the undue width of the legal term and thought a statutory definition a "rather obvious reform", and suggested existing legislation that omitted the fourth head of charity.

1955-12-01 00:00:00

White Paper

United Kingdom, Government Policy on Charitable Trusts in England and Wales (Cmd 9538). This supported the common law definition.

1956-12-01 00:00:00

Lord Cross' proposal

Geoffrey Cross, 'Some Recent Developments in the Law of Charity' (1956) 72 Law Quarterly Review 187. This proposed dividing the definition of charity for tax and trusts purposes into two.

1959-12-01 00:00:00

Newark Report

Northern Ireland, Charity Committee Report (Cmd 396). This supported the common law definition.

1965-12-01 00:00:00

Victorian Chief Justice's Law Reform Committee

Victorian Chief Justice's Law Reform Committee, Report on Charitable Trusts. This supported retaining the common law definition.

1974-12-01 00:00:00

English Charity Law Reform Commission

A non-governmental group established in the 1970s, it proposed replacing 'charity' with only the formal requirement of not-for-profit distribution, to be known as the Non-Profit Distributing Organisation. This would be subject to stricter regulation. Its proposal was rejected by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee.

1975-12-01 00:00:00

House of Commons Expenditure Committee

House of Commons Expenditure Committee, Charity Commissioners and their Accountability. This recommended a definition based on the underlying criterion of public benefit, and recommended modernisation. It endorsed the breadth and flexibility of the fourth head, and recommended all charities should be required to satisfy the test of purposes beneficial to the community.

1976-12-01 00:00:00

Goodman Report

Committee of Inquiry into the Effect of Charity Law and Practice on Voluntary Organisations, Charity Law and Voluntary Organisations. This recommended clarification of existing law through broad guidelines, although not necessarily by statute. These were later adopted by Barbados. A minority recommended a hierarchy of privileges.

1980-12-01 00:00:00

Victorian Legal and Constitutional Committee

Victorian Legal and Constitutional Committee, Report to Parliament on the Law Relating to Charitable Trusts. This recommended addition of specific purposes by legislation where there was clear community support, and rejected a statutory definition as not being feasible.

1980-12-01 00:00:00

Charities Act 1980 (Barbados)

Adopted Goodman Report's guidelines on statutory definition. First statutory definition of charity.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

Gladstone's proposal

Francis Gladstone, Charity, Law and Social Justice. He recommended that public benefit should be deemed to signify only benefits generally accessible or available, or which may be used or shared by all members of the community, without excluding benefits that are by their nature advantageous only to a few. He suggested an exclusionary criterion based on the extent of fees.

1983-12-01 00:00:00

Thye's proposal

Lim Kien Thye, 'Clearing the Charity Muddle' (1984) 26 Malaya Law Review 133. This proposed a codification of the common law, refined the first three heads, included recognised heads of charity, and included a savings provision for imperfect trusts.

1989-01-01 00:00:00

Russell Report

Sir Spencer Russell, Report to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Social Welfare by the Working Party on Charities and Sporting Bodies. This supported retaining the existing common law definition.

1989-05-01 00:00:00

White Paper

Secretary of State for the Home Department, Charities: A Framework for the Future (Cmd 694). This supported retaining the common law definition.

1991-12-01 00:00:00

Tokeley's proposal

Kate Tokeley, 'A New Definition for charity?' (1991) 21 Victoria University of Wellington Review 41. This advocated an approach focusing on public benefit.

1996-01-01 00:00:00

Deakin Commission

Commission on the Future of Voluntary Sector, Meeting the Challenge of Change: Voluntary Action in teh 21st Century (National Council for Voluntary Organisations). This recommended a single overarching category based on benefit to the community, but recommended a reference to the Law Commission.

1996-12-01 00:00:00

Ontario Law Reform Commission

Ontario Law Reform Commission, Report on the Law of Charities. This sought to clarify doctrinally the 'real' definition of charity in an original way. However, it recommended against a statutory definition.

1997-03-01 00:00:00

Kemp Commission

Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector in Scotland, Head and Heart (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations). This argued for a new legal definition based on the concept of public benefit.

1999-01-28 00:00:00

Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women v MNR [1999] 1 SCR 10

It was argued in this case that the Supreme Court of Canada should reframe the notion of charity based on the broad notion of public benefit.

1999-02-01 00:00:00

Broadbent Report

Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector, Building on Strength: Improving Governance and Accountability in Canada's Voluntary Sector

1999-12-01 00:00:00

Drache and Boyle

Arthur Drache and Frances Boyle, Charities, Public Benefit and the Canadian Income Tax System: A Proposal for Reform, Kahanoff Foundation. This report was endorsed in principle by the Canadian Bar Association. They proposed two categories, a 'public benefit organization' and a 'mutual benefit organization'. The proposal listed purposes that were public benefit activities, and categorised three types of organisations.

1999-12-01 00:00:00

Katz Commission

Commission of Inquiry into Certain Aspects of the Tax Structure of South Africa, Ninth Interim Report. This recommended a new category of public benefit organizations which woudl be eligible for income tax exemptions, based on the notion of public benefit. This would be given greater certainty through a schedule of purposes. It also recommended other formal characteristics. This was implemented in s 30 of teh Income Tax Act 1962.

2001-05-01 00:00:00

McFadden Report

Scottish Charity Law Review Commission, CharityScotland. This recommended that there should be four defining principles for a charity: its overriding purpose was for the public benefit; it did not distribute profit; it was independent; and it was non-party political.

2001-06-14 00:00:00

Inland Revenue, Tax and Charities

Inland Revenue, New Zealand, Tax and Charities, Discussion Paper. This suggested as an option a general definition of charity, with a set of detailed guidelines, and a requirement of approval for specified purposes, in order to restrict the definition of charity. Another option was to require registration, or to enable the government to override a decision and deregister a charity.

2001-12-01 00:00:00

Sheppard Inquiry

Ian Fitzhardinge Sheppard, Robert Fitzgerald, David Gonski, Report of the Inquiry into the Definition of Charities and Related Organisations. This recommended a legislative definition, including a statutory list of charitable purposes that modernised the conception of charity. It also combined this with a proposed hierarchy of community organisations. However, after another inquiry by the Board of Taxation on a proposed bill, the government decided on a more modest reform in the Extension of Charitable Purposes Act 2004.

2001-12-01 00:00:00

National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 'For the Public Benefit'

National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 'For the Public Benefit?'. The Charity Law Reeform Advisory Group recommended that to emphasise the centrality of public benefit, the requirement of public benefit should be applied across all heads of charity. This was intended to continue the common law test while enabling examination of a wider group of considerations.

2002-02-28 00:00:00

Working Party on Registration, Reporting and Monitoring of Charities

Working Party on Registration, Reporting and Monitoring of Charities, First Report. This adopted the Sheppard Inquiry's list of charitable purposes.

2002-04-17 00:00:00

McFadden Report responses

Paul Spicker, Sue Morris and Veronica Strachan, Consultation on the Review of Scottish Charity Law: analysis of the Responses

2002-05-31 00:00:00

Working Party on Registration, Reporting and Monitoring of Charities

Second Report. Recommended modification of Sheppard Inquiry definition to clarify existing scope.

2002-07-01 00:00:00

Ireland Law Reform Committee of the Law Society

Law Society of Ireland Law Reform Committee, Charity Law: The Case for Reform. This recommended a statutory list of guidelines of charitable purposes.

2002-09-01 00:00:00

Cabinet Office Strategy Unit

Cabinet Office Strategy Unit (UK), Private action, Public Benefit: A Review of Charities and the Wider Not-for-Profit Sector. This proposed a similar statutory definition to the Sheppard Inquiry, with a greater focus on public benefit including ouster of the presumption.

2002-12-16 00:00:00

Scottish Executive Response to McFadden Report

Scottish Executive, Charity Regulation in Scotland. This rejected the McFadden approach on the basis that Scotland should adhere to a similar approach in England.

2003-07-01 00:00:00

Home Office

Home Office (UK), Charities and Not-for-Profits: A Modern Legal Framework, the Government's Response to 'Private Action, Public Benefit'. This extended the Government's position to include other charitable purposes.

2003-07-22 00:00:00

Charities Bill 2003 Exposure Draft

Exposure Draft, Charities Bill 2003. This largely adopted the recommendations of the Sheppard Inquiry.

2003-12-01 00:00:00

Board of Taxation, Consultation on the Definition of Charity

Board of Taxation's review into the Exposure Draft Charities Bill 2003. Made various recommendations to refine the bill.

2003-12-01 00:00:00

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Establishing a Modern Statutory Framework for Charities, Consultation Paper. This proposed a similar statutory definition to that in England.

2004-12-01 00:00:00

Extension of Charitable Purposes Act 2004

Modest extension of charitable purposes by legislation.

2005-04-20 00:00:00

Charities Act 2005 (NZ)

This Act defines 'charitable purpose' as including 'every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community'.

2005-07-14 00:00:00

Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005

Adopted statutory definition of charity similar to England.

2006-11-08 00:00:00

Charities Act 2006 (UK)

Legislation for England and Wales introducting a statutory definition of charity, similar to the lines in the Sheppard Inquiry.

2008-09-09 00:00:00

Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008

Introduced a statutory definition of charity similar to the English model.

2009-02-28 00:00:00

Charities Act 2009 (Ireland)

Introduced statutory definition of charity similar to the English model.

Statutory definition of charity debate

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