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Legal battle over Cage charity funding 'wasted money', says top judge

Published 21/10/2015

Asim Qureshi of Cage claimed the Islamist executioner 'Jihadi John' was an
Asim Qureshi of Cage claimed the Islamist executioner 'Jihadi John' was an "extremely kind" and "extremely gentle" man

A legal battle over the Charity Commission's decision to urge charities to stop funding the human rights group Cage has ended in a compromise - and one of the country's top judges condemning the waste of taxpayer and charity money spent on the case.

The Commission had urged the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation not to make any future donations to Cage, which supports Muslims suspected of terror offences, after there was a public outcry earlier this year over Islamic State killer "Jihadi John".

Cage's research director Asim Qureshi claimed the Islamist executioner - widely identified as London student Mohammed Emwazi - was an "extremely kind" and "extremely gentle" man.

Mr Qureshi said in February the killer had been driven to extremism after harassment by UK security services. Later Cage said it had made "mistakes" in its comments.

There was heavy criticism in the media directed at Cage and the charities funding it.

The Commission reacted by seeking to block any more charity money going to Cage from the Rowntree Trust and Roddick in the future.

Today, Cage and Rowntree Trust came to London's High Court to argue the commission had issued a direction it had no power to make and was unlawfully fettering the discretion of the charity to reconsider whether or not to fund Cage if circumstances changed.

The Commission disputed the accusation and argued it was acting within its powers to give advice and seek assurances from the charities that they would not offer future funding to Cage.

After a day-long hearing, the case settled with all sides agreeing that Rowntree's trustees "must be free to exercise their powers and duties in the light of circumstances existing at the time" - and the Commission stated it was not seeking to fetter the charity's discretion to fund Cage "for all time regardless of changing circumstances".

The case was heard by Lord Thomas - the Lord Chief Justice - and Mr Justice Ouseley. Lord Thomas welcomed the settlement and said the case should serve as lesson, and in future there should be proper discussions in such disputes at a high level to avoid the waste of taxpayer and charity money in legal proceedings.

Later the Rowntree Trust welcomed the "clarification" brought about by the legal challenge.

A Trust statement said the settlement made clear that the Commission "does not seek to direct charities outside the scope of a formal statutory inquiry, and that it does not ask funding bodies to bind their future discretion.

"These are important principles that underpin the ability of charities to make their own decisions within the law to work on difficult issues and respond to changing need."

Bond, an umbrella group for 460 charities working in international development, said the case had far-reaching implications for its members.

Bond's chief executive Ben Jackson said: "Today's settlement between Cage and the Charity Commission has far-reaching implications for the good regulation of charities way beyond the specific issues and organisations in this case.

" At a time when the Charity Commission is seeking yet more powers from Parliament, today's outcome should give lawmakers strong pause for thought."

MPs needed to ensure that "any new proposed powers are really justified and proportionate, and that the proper checks and balances are in place to ensure the Charity Commission is accountable, objective and transparent in exercising its powers".

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