Building on its existing Trust Law and Foundation Law, in 2014 Jersey brought in new legislation in the form of the Charities (Jersey) Law 2014, which, having been introduced incrementally, will have fully entered into force by the end of 2018. The law frames the definition of charitable activity within a modern legal framework that can support all international charitable enterprises. It creates a charities register and establishes the appointment of a Charities Commissioner.
Recently appointed as Jersey’s first Charity Commissioner, John Mills CBE is tasked with protecting public trust and confidence in registered charities and has responsibility for determining the statutory charity test, which will determine whether an entity may be registered as a charity, as well as maintaining the register of charities.
Prior to taking up this position, he had chaired a large UK educational charity for some 18 years and has significant experience of financial services regulation in the Island and in other regulatory spheres in the UK. He has over 30 years experience of working in senior government positions including being a Member of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit, the Chief Executive of Cornwall County Council and between 1999 and 2003 Chief Executive (Policy and Resources) for the States of Jersey. In the past decade he has held several non-executive roles in Jersey and in the UK.
Here he tells us about his new role and why Jersey should now be well-placed to further enhance its position as a mature and flexible centre in the vanguard of international charitable enterprise structuring.
Q1. Following your recent appointment as Jersey’s first Charity Commissioner, what has been the initial response with regard to general awareness and understanding of the nature of the role and its remit, particularly in relation to the Charities (Jersey) Law 2014 and Jersey’s charities register?
“I continue to be very encouraged by the support I have seen from all quarters for the new charity register and the regulatory arrangements that will encompass it. This goes across the whole range, from the smallest local charity to the largest; there does seem to be common ground that the time is right for a modern regulatory approach to the whole sector.”
Q2. Since taking up the position, what have been your most immediate priorities, in terms of increasing recognition of the functions of the Charity Commissioner and setting out an agenda?
“Since my appointment in July 2017, I have been meeting with a wide range of people in the charity sector and finance industry to hear their views about the new regulatory regime and the developing plan for the Island’s first public register of charities. In February 2018, I published draft guidance that addresses how I shall approach decision-making on the charity test established by the new Law. It sets out the main principles and factors to which I will have regard in operating the law. I have had some interesting but positive feedback on the draft and will publish the final version next month.
“To aid the consultation process, there have been several meetings where people, especially those involved with organisations that will seek to become registered charities, can hear about the operation of the new law and ask whatever questions they wish.”
Q3. How does your new role compare to the wide range of roles you have held in the public and civil service sectors and what knowledge and understanding gleaned from your past experiences with such organisations, do you think will serve you well in this new position?
“A public service career may not be to everyone’s taste but I have been fortunate to have had a series of senior government roles that have, simply, given me a very broad range of experience about public affairs, and, especially, about how law and regulation interact with individuals and organisations.
“Specifically, my kind of work has taught me the importance of precision in articulating complex concepts and how language – words – matter. That’s particularly important in the sphere of charity law but it applies across the board in any sphere of public policy.”
Q4. Could you give us an outline of how you see the role currently and how it may evolve in the foreseeable future, as the new legislation reaches full implementation in the next year or so?
“My main immediate tasks are a) to get all the guidance on the operation of the new law in place, especially on the charity test itself and b) to get ready to receive and deal with applications for the Jersey charity register which is due to be open for business from 1st May 2018. I am confident that most applications will be able to be dealt with in a straightforward way but I also need to be ready to work through cases that may be more challenging; there is a range of rules and requirements as to what is or is not ‘charitable’ and what does or may not comprise ‘public benefit’. I envision a fair amount of dialogue with some applicant entities, particularly to ensure that there is no doubt but that purposes are indeed charitable.
“There will be no charge for registration. The register will be public and accessible to all without charge. This is save for a restricted section for privately-funded charities that meet a requirement under the Law that they neither solicit nor receive donations from the general public. Such bodies will, however, equally have to meet the charity test in order to be registered and be subject to the Commissioner’s oversight in exactly the same manner as charities on the public register. From 2019, being a registered charity will be the only means by which an entity now describing itself thus will be entitled to continue doing that and, subject to some transitional provisions , continue to obtain all the tax reliefs afforded to charities.”
Q5. What do you see as some of the key benefits that Jersey will now provide with the addition of the Charity Law supported by the Charity Commissioner and how the treatment of charitable structures in Jersey may compare to that in the UK and other jurisdictions?
“The new law is a significant reform that impacts upon a crucial sphere of civil society in Jersey. At the moment there is little or no transparency about the charity sector in the Island generally; we don’t even know its actual size and scale.
“The new public register will, over time, illumine this and enable people who wish to give to good causes to be assured that they are giving to reputable organisations that will spend their money wisely and appropriately. The factors pertaining to ‘restricted section’ charities will be somewhat different. The key benefit here I see as reputational for Jersey. For, say, a large family foundation, registration will give assurance, perhaps to overseas tax authorities as well as the local Tax Office in Jersey, that it is established in a proper manner for charitable purposes. The essential principles of law underpinning that will be very similar to those in all the common law jurisdictions. The key underpin is the duty put upon me by the new law to seek to protect public trust and confidence in registered charities and my aim will be to approach that in a fair but effectual way. I’m sure there will be much interest to report in a year’s time, when the new arrangements are fully up and running.”