Alex Ustych represents Charity Commission in appeal against refusal to register COVID-sceptic organisation as a charity

10 June 2024

In Fundamental Freedom Limited v The Charity Commission for England and Wales [2024] UKFTT 311 (GRC)[AU1] , Alex represented the Commission in the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) as it opposed an appeal by Fundamental Freedom Limited against the Commission’s refusal to register it as a charity.

Fundamental Freedom’s written objects were to promote human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments; its objects largely replicated the Commission’s sample objects for human rights charities. Nonetheless, the Commission refused to register Fundamental Freedom as a charity as it was not satisfied that the organisation was established for exclusively charitable purposes. The organisation appealed the refusal and the Tribunal considered the matter afresh.

Fundamental Freedom’s CEO was cross-examined. Her evidence was described by the Tribunal as dwelling “on the concept of a ‘COVID hoax’ theory” and asserting that “’wrong questions’ were being asked at the COVID Inquiry”. She confirmed that benefactors in the United States, including “Moms for America”, wanted to fund the organisation by donating shares, inter alia for USA tax purposes.

While the issue of whether an organisation is a charity is generally determined solely with reference to its written objects, the Commission argued that, where there is doubt or ambiguity as to whether the objects were charitable, extrinsic evidence (such as that from Fundamental Freedom’s website) was admissible.

The Tribunal accepted that it could and should consider extrinsic evidence to assess whether there is a public benefit in the organisation pursuing its stated objects. Based on the CEO’s oral evidence as well as written materials, the Tribunal concluded that the primary purpose of the organisation seeking registration as a charity “was to access funding from the USA”. The Tribunal further found that the primary purpose of the organisation was to undertake litigation with a view to challenging particular government policies (around COVID). Accordingly, the organisation did not meet the statutory definition of a charity and so the appeal was refused.

This decision confirms that adopting the Commission’s model wording for a charitable purpose is insufficient to avoid substantive scrutiny of whether an organisation is properly a charity.

Alex is frequently instructed by the Charity Commission and major national charities, particularly in high-profile public law, data protection and charity law matters.


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Alex Ustych

Call 2010

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