High Court considers charitable purposes

In a recent High Court case, the fact that the claims of a religious sect were 'foolish and delusional' did not disqualify a trust made for the sect's benefit from being charitable for the advancement of religion.

This case related to a plot of land in Stamford Hill, London, on which a church was built.  This property was held on trust for the use of the members of a religious sect called the Agapemonites. The sect effectively became defunct by the middle of the 20th century. In 2011 the church was sold for just over £1,000,000. The trustees sought the directions of the court as to how these proceeds should be disposed. The principal question for the court was whether the trust should be recognised as being charitable for the advancement of religion.  

The judge made it clear that it was not for the court to pass value judgments on religions or sects. Notwithstanding the 'foolish and delusional' claims made by the Agapemonites' leaders, the trust was, in the opinion of the judge, established "with a view to extending the influence of Christianity" and was therefore charitable. 

The judge directed that the sale proceeds from the London property should be applied for charitable purposes.  To enable this (given the property could no longer benefit the obsolete sect), it was concluded that the Charity Commission would need to create a 'scheme' – broadly, providing its consent to alter the terms of the trust on which the property was held. 

For more information please contact Andrew White in the Charities team at Michelmores at andrew.white@michelmores.com