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Family First New Zealand v Attorney General (Supreme Court)

8 July 2022

Te Rātā Atawhai, the Charities Registration Board's (the Board) statement on the Family First Supreme Court decision.

This statement seeks to help in the understanding of the Supreme Court’s judgment. The full judgment with reasons is the authoritative document on this matter and can be accessed at the link below.

The Supreme Court has decided that Family First New Zealand (Family First) does not qualify for registration as a charity. 

In 2017, Te Rātā Atawhai, the Charities Registration Board decided that Family First no longer qualified to be a registered charity under the Charities Act 2005. Family First appealed to the High Court. In 2018, the High Court confirmed the Board’s decision that Family First’s purposes are not exclusively charitable, and Family First appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal on 27 August 2020 held in a majority decision that Family First qualified for registration, and the Attorney-General appealed to the Supreme Court.

In its decision dated 28 June 2022, the Supreme Court has unanimously allowed the Attorney-General’s appeal, finding that Family First no longer qualifies for registration as a charity.

At the Supreme Court hearing, Family First argued that it had a charitable purpose to advance education. The Court found that it did not. This is because Family First’s activities primarily lacked the balance required to advance education in a charitable sense.

Family First also argued that it qualified as a charity on general community benefit grounds. The Court found that Family First’s advocacy for the traditional family, to the disadvantage of other forms of family, was discriminatory, and this was not compatible with charity.

The Court also held that it was not possible to determine whether Family First’s engagement with other issues (e.g. abortion, assisted dying and censorship) was of public benefit in a charitable sense. This contrasts with advocacy for recognised charitable ends such as human rights or protection of the environment.

In a separate opinion, Justice Joe Williams found that Family First’s advocacy was not charitable because it was not fair, balanced and respectful.

The Board welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision, which provides clarity on complex areas of charities law, and endorses the Board’s decision in 2017 that Family First did not qualify for registration.

The Board also welcomes the Supreme Court’s clarification that both the stated purposes in an entity’s constituting document, and its activities, must be considered by the decision-maker when assessing whether the entity qualifies for registration as a charity.

As the decision-maker, the Board does not have an active role in Court appeals. In this case, the Attorney-General was joined as a party, reflecting their role as the ‘protector of charities’. 

Role of the Board

The role of the Board is to maintain the integrity of the Charities Register by ensuring that entities on the Charities Register qualify for registration. The Board is independent and not subject to Ministerial direction. It makes charities registration decisions based on the facts before it, applying the relevant statutory and case law, and maintaining consistency of its approach with previous decisions. A purpose is charitable if it advances a public benefit in a way that is analogous to cases that have previously been held to be charitable.

View the Supreme Court’s decision here(external link)

View the Supreme Court’s media release here(external link)

Court judgments