In the first significant decision since the Supreme Court decision in Greenpeace the majority of the Court of Appeal has allowed the appeal in Family First New Zealand v Attorney-General against the decision to de-register it as a charity. The High Court had previously considered that Family First did not qualify for registration as its core purpose was to promote its conception of the traditional family, which was not considered to be in the public benefit in the charitable sense required under the Charities Act.
The majority of the Court of Appeal was of the view that Family First’s trust deed evidenced two main purposes:
- the advancement of education: that is education by facilitating research on, and public understanding of, the importance of the roles of marriage and the family in society, and
- a broader purpose of supporting marriage and families as foundational to a strong and enduring society.
Accordingly, it was held that the High Court erred in finding that Family First’s purposes were not charitable. Clifford and Stevens JJ were of the view that, applying the earlier ratio from Greenpeace, Family First’s objects met the threshold for charitable purpose, thereby allowing it to qualify for registration under the Charities Act. In respect of the second head of charity (the advancement of education), Family First published reports that met the minimum quality threshold required for charitable educational material. There was no evidence to displace the presumption of public benefit under the second head of charity.
The fact that Family First argued for particular positions within the wider scope of those public goods was not a bar, in itself, to charitable status. However, as noted by the Court of Appeal, it may be difficult to bring issues such as divorce, alternative forms of marriage and abortion within the ambit of family and marriage in the necessary way and Family First will need to bear that in mind as it determines it priorities in the future.
- Family First New Zealand v Attorney-General  NZCA 366
- Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Incorporated  NZSC 105