Protecting UK charities from abuse for extremist purposes

11 June 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 5 minute read

In March 2024, the Charity Commission updated its guidance on "Protecting charities from abuse for extremist purposes" to reflect the government's 2024 definition of extremism.

The old definition of 'extremism' came from the Prevent Strategy 2011 and was slightly developed in the 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy to become: "…the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.  We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist."

The new definition, as published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, is now the following:

Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance that aims to:

(1)    negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or

(2)    undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or

(3)    intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

The new definition casts the net wider than before which has caused some commentators to express concerns.  By setting the definition itself, the government has effectively side-stepped the reported difficulty of setting a 'legally acceptable' definition through legislation.

Being 'extremist' under the new definition (as with the previous definition) isn't in itself necessarily unlawful.  It's rather, to put things broadly, that it will lead to active marginalisation in the sense of being excluded from contact with or funding from central government.

Some have suggested there will now be greater scope for people to be accused of extremism in debates around sensitive issues such as trans rights and that the new definition unfairly targets Muslim communities.  The charity sector is already wrestling with issues in these spaces and now potentially has more to contend with.

Charities involved in campaigning will need to keep a particularly close eye on what is and is not permitted and be sensitive to the distinction between what is unlawful and what is against government policy.

Further guidance on the government's definition of extremism can be found here.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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