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Charity Commission says it cannot rule on whether CVT is in breach of trust

21 November 2014

The Charity Commission has insisted that it cannot rule on whether the Camphill Village Trust (CVT) is upholding the principles of Rudolf Steiner embedded in the Camphill movement.

In its latest response to lawyers it also clarifies that its decision not to launch an inquiry into alleged breaches of trust by CVT does not imply that the charity is acting in accordance with the principles of Rudolf Steiner as set out on the charity's governing document.

The Commission had previously appeared to endorse CVT’s assertion that its controversial policies were in keeping with Steiner principles by saying that it was satisfied that CVT had taken “full account” of these in implementing its controversial policies of effectively eliminating the core Camphill principles of life-sharing and the vocational co-worker model at its nine communities.

Lawyers acting for the Delrow community had asked the Commission to take a fresh look at its previous decision not to investigate alleged breaches of trust by CVT, set out in a powerful legal opinion by Mr Hubert Picarda QC, one of the country's leading experts on charity law. The Charity Commission has said it will not institute such an inquiry.

In its latest response the Commission is at pains to stress that it is not endorsing CVT's new policies because it cannot rule on matters of ethos nor can it tell the trustees how to run the charity. Only the High Court can decide whether CVT is in breach of the charity's Articles and Memorandum of Association says the Commission.

The Commission merely says that it is up to the trustees to decide how to run the charity and the commission is satisfied the trustees have acted according to their duties.

However, the officer in charge of the case goes on to mention “ the reference to the trustees 'taking full account of the Steiner principles' in my previous letter. This simply referred to the trustees having carefully considered (or 'taken account of') Steiner principles as part of their decision-making processes. It was not a comment on whether the decisions reached or consequent actions were in accordance with Steiner principles because, as discussed, this is not something we can determine."

This latest clarification represents a subtle but distinct change in emphasis from its previous response.

A Delrow family member commented: "What the Commission fails to explain is how, since it cannot have an opinion on matters of ethos or doctrine, it is in a position to say whether or not CVT has taken full account of them.

All it is entitled to say is whether or not it is satisfied with CVT’s assurance that it has done so, which is entirely different and something we strongly contest."

The Commission also appears to point the Delrow Group of relatives, who commissioned the Picarda opinion, even more clearly to the High Court to resolve the dispute. This centres on the Picarda opinion, which argues strongly, that CVT is failing to uphold the principles that the charity stands for and is therefore in breach of trust.

Lawyers for the group had written to the Commission suggesting that its initial response to the Picarda opinion was not properly considered and was based on earlier complaints from other families.

In its latest letter the Commission insists it had properly considered the Picarda opinon despite not being able to rule on the its main arguments.

CVT have since responded to Picarda with their own brief legal opinion. This agreed that the charity must conform to the charity’s aims but refutes allegations that the charity is in breach of trust.

Another Delrow Group parent commented: "The Commission is effectively washing its hands of the affair and of the points raised by Picarda. The issue of whether or not CVT are doing what they should be doing remains up in the air. We shall have to consider our next step."

The majority of Delrow families, as well as families at Botton and The Grange communities, are opposed to CVT’s new policies. This was made clear at a recent meeting with trustees and senior management.

Delrow Group families have said that the proposed mediated talks scheduled for December are their preferred way of resolving the current serious dispute. But should these fail all options remain open. 


The Picarda opinion

The original opinion was drafted by Mr Hubert Picarda QC, a charity law barrister, described in Chambers and Partners as "a vastly experienced charities specialist, who, quite literally, wrote the book on charities law. He provides regular advice to a considerable range of charities, ranging from local charitable organisations to international household names."

The nub of Mr Picarda's submission to the Charity Commission is that:

1) The overriding duty of the trustees of a charity is to carry out the charitable trust in accordance with its terms.

2) It is not for the trustees, or the Charity Commission, to interpret the wording of the Objects clause so as to exclude an integral part of it.

Mr Picarda argues that if CVT continues effectively to strip the charity of its raison d’être, the contributing public - CVT’s donors on whom it relies heavily - may view this as "little short of a scandal."

There is already considerable anecdotal evidence that donors are having second thoughts about giving to a charity they believe is straying irreversibly from its founding principles laid down by Karl König, its founder.

Mr Picarda argues that the High Court will enforce such a trust for those who adhere to the original principles, even where they may not form a majority.

CVT have been arguing that, despite the sweeping changes made at the Delrow community and elsewhere - and now proposed at Botton and The Grange communities, in the face of mounting opposition - the founding principles of Camphill were being respected.

Families vigorously dispute this. They say that, despite token nods in that direction, the core principles of life-sharing (where carers and residents share their lives as equals in a family setting as part of a community) and of vocational co-working are being dismantled. They are confident that a careful and impartial examination of the radical changes to the culture and ethos of their community by the courts would back their argument.

Mr Picarda, in his opinion, asserts that the principles of Dr. Rudolf Steiner as applied in Camphill "are a known and demonstrably provable factual criterion which is capable of being adjudicated upon." These governing principles of the CVT Camphill communities are clearly embedded in the charity’s founding document.

He further argues that replacing what he calls a "shared life community ideology" with a "care worker culture" represents a fundamentally different charitable purpose. This, families believe, is self-evidently the case.

In Mr Picarda’s view, the objects of a charity, its purpose, is "intended to last," unless very sound legal reasons can demonstrate that it is expedient for these to change. Both he and the Delrow families believe that CVT have failed to make a case for such a radical departure.