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Case update 06 July 2023

Mermaids’ challenge to the Charity Commission’s decision to register LGB Alliance as a charity has been dismissed

Nuva Frames / Shutterstock

Mermaids’ appeal was dismissed on the technical ground that it did not have standing. 

On whether LGB Alliance would have been a charity if Mermaids did have standing, the Tribunal held: 

“notwithstanding significant time being spent on deliberation in trying to do so, the two members of the panel hearing this appeal have been unable to reach agreement on whether, if Mermaids does have standing, LGBA is a charity within the meaning of the 2011 Act”

(paragraph 15).

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The Tribunal also held that:

“Mermaids submits that LGBA has gone beyond the boundaries of civilised debate. In the registration Decision as extracted above, the Commission can be seen to have had similar concerns. In light of the evidence, we consider that these were well-founded”

(paragraph 70).


Are you disappointed with the outcome?

The LGB Alliance has a free speech right to attack trans people. But its activities should never have been subsidised with public funds – or recognised as in the public interest – by the Charity Commission. This felt to the sector – and to Good Law Project – like a very important line in the sand to defend. 

Obviously we regret that, having tried, we failed. But given the line the Charity Commission crossed we believe it was important to try.

We signalled that “the case is not straightforward” when we began the challenge. And this fact is reflected in the time taken by the Tribunal to make its decision: the hearing began ten months ago. 

Why did you support the case?

We supported the case because someone needed to and we are very successful in the space. We funded the successful intervention against the Keira Bell decision and we funded the successful AB case which established that parents could consent to puberty blockers for their children. Later this month the Court of Appeal will hear our appeal against NHS England’s failure to address the trans community’s healthcare needs. 

And because the sector wanted us to bring it. It was supported by the LGBT Consortium, of 525 LGBT+ organisations,  who were deeply concerned that an organisation whose actions are about excluding trans people would be able to obtain charity status, with all the benefits this brings. 

Good Law Project has also actively scrutinised the Charity Commission, successfully challenging the appointment of Martin Thomas, a friend of Boris Johnson and implicated in sexual misconduct, as its Chair. And, working with a cross-party group of MPs, we referred the global warming enthusiast charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, to the Charity Commission. The GWPF is, like the LGBA, based at 55 Tufton Street.

The Charity Mermaids was the Claimant because it had been repeatedly and explicitly targeted by LGBA.

Is the case about free speech?

The case has nothing to do with free speech – LGBA’s staff and trustees can share their views about trans people whatever their charitable status. The point is that charities are supported – through charitable tax relief – with public money. To be registered as a charity, an organisation must be established, broadly, for the public good. By granting charitable status to LGBA, the Charity Commission decided that its activities were entitled to that public subsidy and satisfied the test of being for the public good. The sector believed that judgment needed to be tested.

Is it right to say ‘this is the first time a charity has tried to remove another charity’?

We don’t understand the point of this question – something being done for the first time doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it wrong. But we don’t know – we don’t think anyone knows – whether it’s happened before.

What happens next?

As a matter of law Mermaids could decide to appeal the decision given that the decision was made solely on the technical point of whether it had standing. 

The judgment highlights the monitoring role the Commission will need to undertake to see whether LGBA sticks to its promises about the tone of its social media output, and (more importantly) whether it actually starts undertaking the kind of pro-LGB activities it claims to have been founded to pursue (see paragraph 73 of the Judgment). Those constraints on LGBA are a positive outcome of the case.

If you would like to support our work protecting the trans community, we would welcome donations to our Legal Defence Fund for Transgender Lives which helps us work in partnership with the community and others where litigation can protect and defend the rights of trans people to live as themselves.