The New Zealand Supreme Court denies Family First registration as a charity
14 July 2022
14 July 2022
Family First New Zealand (Family First) is a conservative Christian lobbying group established under a trust deed which was registered as a charity. On 15 April 2013, the Charities Registration Board (the Board) deregistered Family First because:
The High Court allowed Family First's appeal and referred the matter back to the Board for reconsideration. The Board reiterated its decision, which the High Court affirmed on appeal. Family First then successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Attorney-General then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
The Court identified three key issues to resolve on appeal:
The Supreme Court found that Family First could not be registered as a charity.
The Court determined that Family First did not have a purpose of advancing education. Based on Family First's purposes in its trust deed and its activities, its "primary object" was to "advocate rather than to educate". This did not amount to a balanced or objective advancement of education. While the purpose of providing research could have been educational, Family First's published research lacked balance or neutrality and expressed a clear viewpoint which meant it was not legitimately advancing education.
Family First also did not come under the fourth head of other purposes beneficial to the community. The Court noted that promotion of marriage and family relationships, being "foundational to stable society", can offer self-evident general community benefit. However, Family First's support only for heterosexual family values endorsed merely a subset of marriages and families, and discriminated against other non-traditional relationships. This was not considered beneficial to the community.
Family First argued that its engagement with issues such as assisted dying, prostitution and abortion were evidence that its objects were of general community benefit. However, the Court likewise found these not to be charitable ends and therefore not beneficial to the community.
This decision affirms advocacy-style engagement may be incongruous with advancing education if it is unbalanced and promotes a particular viewpoint.
Similarly, discriminatory advocacy may not be considered to be of public benefit. Although the Court in Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Inc  1 NZLR 169 accepted advocacy for purposes such as safeguarding human rights and environmental conservation as charitable, Family First's discriminatory ethos prevented the Court from making the same finding in this case.
Authors: Geoff Mann, Partner; Bronwyn Kirkwood, Counsel and Patrick Stratmann, Seasonal Clerk