Legal development

The New Zealand Supreme Court denies Family First registration as a charity

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    What you need to know

    • Education through materials that adhere to a particular viewpoint disqualified Family First from eligibility as a charity for the advancement of education.
    • Discriminatory advocacy was held to be incongruous with general community benefit.

    What you need to do

    • Entities seeking registration as a charity on the basis of the advancement of education should ensure the education provided is balanced, objective, and not merely advocacy for a certain viewpoint.
    • Entities seeking registration as a charity should be mindful of ends for which they advocate that are discriminatory as such advocacy may not be considered beneficial to the community.


    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:

    • its "main purpose" was political rather than charitable; and
    • its purpose of "procuring governmental action consonant with Family First's own viewpoints" was neither for the advancement of education or religion, nor beneficial for the community.

    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.

    Issues on Appeal

    The Court identified three key issues to resolve on appeal:

    • Were Family First's objects for the advancement of education, particularly in the context of their "viewpoint expression"? 
    • If not, did Family First's purpose of promoting marriage and family relationships qualify as advancing objects that are beneficial to the community?
    • Did Family First's other advocacy relating to abortion, euthanasia, prostitution, censorship, and other topics qualify as advancing objects that are beneficial to the community?


    The Supreme Court found that Family First could not be registered as a charity.

    Advancing Education

    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.

    Other Purposes Beneficial to the Community

    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 [2015] 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