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Two days before interviews began for a new chair of the Charity Commission, the Government published an article on the Gov.uk website explaining that whoever they hired would be required to “rebalance” charities away from their so-called “woke” agenda.
In our view, that article fatally compromised the independence of the interview process – and threatened the way of life of the UK’s charities. We have now launched formal judicial review proceedings, seeking an order that the application process be re-run without the shadow of this article hanging over it.
Before issuing our claim, we spent several weeks engaged in pre-action correspondence with the new Secretary of State for Culture, Nadine Dorries. Her position seems to be that her predecessor Oliver Dowden’s demands for an “anti-woke” chair didn’t matter, because they weren’t repeated in the formal job specification.
We disagree. Whatever the job spec said, we think it matters that, two days before the interviews began, both the applicants and interviewers were given an emphatic steer as to the expected outcome. If the then Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden thought his words would be ignored, why did he bother publishing them?
On 7 October, we asked Nadine Dorries to hand over the list of questions that were put to interviewees, and to explain what ministerial involvement there had been in the hiring process. When she finally responded on 19 October she said, confusingly, that she had decided not to disclose the details we had asked for, in order to “retain the integrity” of the interview process – a process which had already concluded.
It seems the Culture Secretary plans to respond to our challenge by rushing in a new chair of the Charity Commission behind closed doors. It was reported earlier this week that the Government’s preferred candidate for the role has been chosen, but not yet named.
We cannot imagine an approach more likely to undermine the “integrity” of the process than that – and we believe it is unlawful.
We’ve asked the Court for an expedited timetable so the case will be heard before the interim Chair’s term expires on 26 December. The Secretary of State has until 19 November to respond.
If you are in a position to help us keep charities free of Ministerial control, you can donate to the legal challenge here.