GETTING IT RIGHT—A MATTER OF LAW

by A. R. Giles, Trustee, Sunbeam House Services, Bray, Co. Wicklow

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In a previous article (Frontline 32 (October 1997), p.7), I described how important it is to keep up to date the rules of a voluntary organisation or an association that is intended to serve people with a handicap, or their carers.

Sunbeam House first wrote its rules in 1870, so they were way out of date by the end of this century. As was explained, to change these fundamentals involved taking the proposed new rules to the High Court of Ireland and obtaining what is called a Cy Prés order. Law does not come cheap, even to charities, and the legal fees were £35,000, of which a significant amount was paid to cover the Attorney General’s fees in the matter.

The trustees of Sunbeam House had no alternative, since the first duty of trustees of a voluntary organisation is to make sure that the rules under which the organisation operates are meticulously held to; indeed, they are liable at law if they fail to do so.

The trustees of a voluntary organisation may not directly manage the affairs and operations of an organisation—that task may be left to a committee or the chief executive and his management team—however it is the trustees who are ultimately responsible for seeing that nothing is done outside the objectives and rules of the underlying trust. In the case of a guarantee company, which many voluntary organisations have formed themselves into, this duty of control lies with the Board of Directors.

For organisations receiving money from the state, one of the rules often appearing Cy Pres schemes, prohibited ‘private’ funds raised by the organisation, by fundraising or in any other way, being used as a substitute for money that the state should provide. This has all sorts of implications which need to be considered.

This short article is simply to draw attention, again, to the importance of people thinking carefully, and taking advice, when they launch a new association, club or care organisation. Sadly, serious disputes have arisen that have destroyed groups because the rules and the objects were not clearly thought out and set down at their foundation.

Sunbeam House’s objects and rules, written in a strange Victorian way, lasted over a hundred years, which says a lot for those Victorians of goodwill. In the Third Millennium what will they think of our Cy Pres Order, and will they say what a waste of money?!

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