Book Review: Debates in Charity Law

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Debates in Charity Law. Edited by John Picton & Jennifer Sigafoos. Oxford: Hart, 2020. 318p. Includes index. ISBN 978-1-50992-683-1 (hardcover) $90.00; ISBN 978-1-50992-684-8 (ePub) $90.00; ISBN 978-1-50992-685-5 (PDF) $90.00.

Reviewed by Charles R. Davidson
Davidsons Lawyers
In CLLR 46:1

Debates in Charity Law is an authoritative, wide-ranging look at issues that are or should be of concern to charities and charity law lawyers. What is impressive is the book’s ability to set out the fundamental issues being balanced by practitioners, regulators, and charities. The contributors invite consideration (and ongoing reconsideration) of differing jurisdictional approaches to both charity law and policy issues, as well as novel technological and other concerns.

The collection, consisting of 12 essays, brings together writers considering a variety of methodological approaches to the disparate and distinct issues taken up in each essay. In the first essay, Matthew Harding provides a superb introduction and review of the legal and policy concerns and theory informing the struggle to find, articulate, and, from time to time, recalibrate a charity’s need to balance its independence and its regulation. Editor John Picton’s essay lives up to the promise of its title, “Regulating Egoism in Perpetuity.” He uses wry humour and contrasting theoretical models to consider the best regulatory balance between a donor’s desire for permanence and the social and legal requirement that change be accommodated. John Tribe’s essay provides insight into how cy-près-like techniques should be adapted and used to rescue “(near) insolvent yet viable charitable companies” (p. 83). In the evocatively titled “Licking their Own Lollipops: What Do Charities and the Public Think about the Regulation of Charitable Activities?”, Eddy Hogg offers a sociological consideration of the views of stakeholders. In “Commissioning of Services by Charities in the Third Decade of the Contract Culture: Lessons Learned (or Not Yet),” Debra Morris discusses the use of, and risks involved in, Payment by Results contracts. Matthew Robert Shillito writes with insight and foresight about the technological challenges faced by charities. He looks at how charities can allow donors to trace their specific gift to the end recipient with digital currencies and blockchain technology. Balancing this is the benefit of the “pseudonymous gifts,” which, while complying with reporting requirements, would prevent the donor’s identifying information from falling into the hands of the charity, thereby hampering email, phone, and other solicitations. 

Several essays have a jurisdictional focus, with each of these essays presenting varying degrees of applicability to Canadian charities. Mark Sidel’s essay “Debating the Extent of Party/State Control Over Overseas Nonprofit Organisations: Charity Law Debates in China” is a timely discussion of the disturbing implications of “an anxious state” (p. 37) closely regulating the voluntary sector. Editor Jennifer Sigafoos offers a thoughtful consideration of the complicated interaction between equality and charity law within the U.K. context but with obvious application to Canadian jurisdictions as well. However, Adam Parachin’s essay is very much within the context of Canadian law and jurisprudence. Oonagh B. Breen, in her essay “Redefining the Regulatory Space? The First Forays of the Irish Charities Regulatory Authority,” applies the balancing act of regulators and regulatory concerns to the Irish introduction of a new regulator. Patrick Ford’s inquiry into the question of “Independent Schools in Scotland: Should They be Charities?”, while made in a context very different from the Canadian story, provides a useful example and model for jurisdictions other than Scotland. And, finally, Warren Barr’s piece entitled “Social Housing – Charities and Vulnerable Groups” is a powerful and affecting discussion of the issues within the U.K. context but again with obvious, if unfortunate, application to Canada and other jurisdictions.

I recommend the purchase of Debates in Charity Law. The impressive combination of range and depth of the debates themselves will be of great interest and utility to practitioners in the field and to the many lawyers who, voluntarily or otherwise, find themselves involved with charitable organizations. Given the attention that Debates in Charity Law manages to pay to both fundamental and cutting-edge issues, I expect that it will continue to be useful for years to come.

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