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Disqualified trustee continued to play a role in legal advice charity

Charity Commission’s inquiry finds serious issues in administration of JAFLAS.

Yesterday (6th March 2024), the Charity Commission has published the report of its inquiry into JAFLAS (working name of the Joint Armed Forces Legal Advocacy Service). The charity was set up to offer free legal advice and assistance to people who would otherwise be unable to access it. It has now been dissolved and removed from the public register of charities. 

Dr Alan Blacker, who founded JAFLAS, was automatically disqualified from acting as a charity trustee, after being convicted of benefit fraud in 2020. He sought to secure a waiver for his disqualification and when this was not granted by the Commission he appealed, unsuccessfully, to the First Tier Tribunal.  

Dr Blacker continued to hold significant control over the charity’s funds and remained listed as a director of the charity and a ‘person with significant control’ at Companies House. He appeared to continue to act as a trustee by directing the actions of the three other trustees, including answering correspondence from the Commission on their behalf. 

The Commission’s inquiry into JAFLAS opened in July 2022. 

It found the trustees failed to demonstrate a clear distinction between the charity and a private company controlled by Dr Blacker. This was demonstrated by the similarities in the names of both entities and a proposed transfer of the charity’s assets into Dr Blacker’s business, which is not permitted in charity law.

It also found donations made through the charity’s website went to Dr Blacker’s account, which may have misled the public into believing they were supporting a registered charity. The Commission used its powers to freeze the bank account in July 2022. The inquiry concluded that Dr Blacker’s continued involvement in JAFLAS amounted to serious misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of a charity.  

The inquiry further found that the other trustees’ response to Dr Blacker’s automatic disqualification fell short of the standard expected of them. They were either unable or unwilling to prevent him continuing to act as a trustee and appeared to have little control over the charity or its operation until it dissolved. 

The trustees were also found to be “uncooperative and obstructive”. On numerous occasions, legally-binding orders and directions of the Commission were ignored or not answered in full by the charity’s trustees. No substantial records or evidence demonstrating their management of the charity and its funds were provided to the Commission during the investigation. The inquiry concluded that the trustees’ behaviour also amounted to serious misconduct and/or mismanagement.  

The Commission’s inquiry could not establish how the charity’s objects were being met, or if the charity was operating for the public benefit. The charity was dissolved in December 2022 and it was removed from the public register of charities.  

Dr Blacker has been disqualified by the Commission from being a charity trustee or holding a senior position in a charity for 15 years, adding to his automatic disqualification which would have expired in October 2024. In August 2022, the Commission referred its concerns that an individual was acting as a trustee whilst disqualified to Greater Manchester Police. Acting as a trustee while disqualified is a criminal offence. Three other trustees, Paul Bohill, Stephen Ashforth and Julie Ashforth are disqualified for 10, 7 and 7 years respectively from 20 November 2023. 

Amy Spiller, Head of Investigations at the Charity Commission, said: 

The Commission is clear that a disqualified individual cannot continue to act in a position of power within a charity. However, our inquiry found that Dr Blacker held a dominant position at JAFLAS prior to and following his automatic disqualification. Trustees are responsible for the administration and management of their charity, and for taking proper steps to respond when things go wrong. In this case, the trustees failed to respond appropriately to the automatic disqualification of a trustee. 

Charity trustees share ultimate responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run. Where the conduct of trustees falls well below the standards expected, as is the case here, there can be damage to the reputation of the charity and of the wider charity sector itself.

The full report detailing the findings of this inquiry can be found on GOV.UK.  

Notes to editors 

  1. The Charity Commission is the independent, non-ministerial government department that registers and regulates charities in England and Wales. Its purpose is to ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society. 

  2. The statutory inquiry was opened into the charity on 13 July 2022. 

  3. Dr Blacker submitted an application to the Commission for a waiver of his disqualification the result if granted would be to enable him to continue in the role of trustee, however the Commission made the decision not to grant this. Dr Blacker challenged this decision, but it was ultimately upheld at the First Tier Tribunal (Charity) on 15 April 2022. 

  4. Dr Blacker’s disqualification as a result of his conviction will last until his conviction is spent on 10 October 2024. Following this inquiry, he has separately been disqualified by the Commission for 15 years. 

  5. The charity, which has now been dissolved, was established with purposes for the provision of free legal advice and assistance to persons who, through lack of means, would otherwise be unable to obtain such advice. It was registered with the Commission in June 2011. 

  6. Continuing to act as a trustee or director of a charity despite being disqualified is misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of a charity and is a criminal offence under Section 183 of the Charities Act 2011.  

  7. Section 60 of the Charities Act 2011 states it is an offence for any person to knowingly or recklessly provide the Commission with false or misleading information. 

  8. The Commission’s guidance on automatic disqualifications can be found at this link: Automatic disqualification guidance for charities - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) 

  9. The Register of Removed trustees can be found here: Search the Register of Removed Trustees (charitycommission.gov.uk)

Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/disqualified-trustee-continued-to-play-a-role-in-legal-advice-charity

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