Government takes Family First to Supreme Court

charitable status

Family First and the New Zealand Government are arguing over the group’s charitable status at the Supreme Court in Wellington this week.

The Government is appealing a recent Court of Appeal decision which upheld Family First as a charity.

Bob McCoskrie, Family First’s National Director says the case is not about his group.

“The attempt by the Government to deregister Family First is a watershed event, not just for Family First, but for the whole country,” he says.

Over the past week, McCoskrie says Family First has been swamped with messages of support and with contributions to their Legal Fighting Fund.

The events leading to the appeal – which began yesterday and is expected to finish today – involved a series of judicial decisions.

It all began back in April 2013, when the Charities Board notified Family First that they were going to deregister it as a charity.

“The Board considers that the Trust’s opinion(s)…. are fairly described as controversial in contemporary New Zealand society,” the Board said.

“We challenged their decision in the High Court, and in 2015 the judge told the Charities Board to reconsider their decision,” McCoskrie recalls.

The Court told the Board: “…Members of the Charities Board may personally disagree with the views of Family First, but at the same time recognise there is a legitimate analogy between its role and those organisations that have been recognised as charities.”

McCoskrie says the Board informed them after their “reconsideration,” that they would still proceed with deregistering their charitable status.

“So we went back to the High Court in 2018 to challenge their decision again. But that particular judge agreed with the Charities Commission. We did not accept the High Court’s analysis or its conclusions and appealed to the Court of Appeal.”

Family First won that battle in the Court of Appeal last year.

The Court’s decision said: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other similar instruments, affirm a right to family life. That provides considerable support for the proposition that Family First’s support of, education about, and advocacy for, the family and its related institution of marriage may, other things being equal, be charitable.”

This week’s head-to-head at the Supreme Court with the Government will be expensive for both parties, says McCoskrie.

Nonetheless, he says any charity has the right to represent a sector of the community.

“We’re just asking for a level playing field. We have fought and will continue to fight this decision because of the threat it places on us but also on other charities and churches who hold what would be termed as conservative viewpoints, and our collective freedom to speak on behalf of our supporters in a civil society,” McCoskrie says.


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