An appeal by St Margaret's Children & Family Care Society to the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel has the potential to become a leading case in Scotland for the charity sector on the subject of equality law and public benefit.
The appeal revolves around the activities of St Margaret's, an adoption agency with connections to the Roman Catholic Church, which OSCR considered to amount to direct discrimination in contravention of the Equality Act 2010.
The charity stated publicly on its website that it gave priority in the delivery of adoption services to people who had been married for at least 2 years. As marriage is not open to same sex couples, OSCR considered this to be direct discrimination which could not be justified under the charity exemption in the Equality Act. OSCR therefore took the view that the charity did not provide public benefit and therefore failed the Scottish charity test.
The charity appealed OSCR's decision and the Appeals Panel recently allowed the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to intervene, inviting the Commission to make a written statement to the Panel as part of the evidence in the case. The statement is likely to point in particular to the Commission's approach to equality legislation, and may be of wider interest when it becomes publicly available.
The outcome of the appeal decision is eagerly awaited by many in the charity sector as it is likely to be one of the clearest statements to date in relation to the application of the Equality Act in the Scottish charity sector. The appeal continues.