Charities are Francesca’s main practice area. She covers the whole range of charities whether in terms of size, purposes and activities or legal format. She advises on charities at all their stages from before formation until after dissolution and frequently deals with property transactions, borrowing arrangements, complex constitutional change (including cy-près schemes) and governance issues (including relationships with third parties and the vexed questions arising from conflicts of interests or duty). Elaborate arrangements sometimes have to be made where a commercial body wishes to create a link with a charity in some novel way, or where an opportunity arises for programme-related investment by a charity or an investment in some kind of social enterprise.
Francesca is widely experienced in acting in cases where a charity is under investigation by the Charity Commission or where charity proceedings in the Chancery Division may be needed or have been commenced, and has acted in several cases in which an appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Charity) was contemplated or brought. She appeared for intervenors in the two major cases to date on public benefit which were heard before the Upper Tribunal. She has also acted for a local authority as charity trustee in a mediation over a massive claim for breach of trust and has acted as a mediator in a dispute between a charity trustee and a problematic beneficiary.
She has acted for many different kinds of religious groups, both Christian and non Christian, in internal disputes and disputes with other religious bodies, or where questions of Ecclesiastical Law arise, as well as for proposed charities of any kind where there is a question of charitable status stemming from the new emphasis on public benefit and the effect of the Equality Act 2010.
Francesca frequently acts for charities and other bodies involved in specific activities such as education and housing provision, and for individuals and charities proposing or affected by charitable gifts, especially where the rules on tax relief are engaged. She is therefore familiar with the relevant law in these areas and can often adopt or adapt a solution which she has considered or found to be workable in a previous case.
Her experience of acting for or in relation to schools extends from maintained schools to independent schools and from colleges to universities as well as to student unions and other charities associated with schools, colleges or universities. A recent educational institution client commends Francesca for her “huge expertise” and comments that her “written advice is wonderfully clear, also she is incredibly responsive”.
In relation to housing, she has often advised almshouse charities as well as charitable and non-charitable housing associations established as Industrial & Provident Societies, the latter frequently on questions of charitable status (including conversion to charitable form) but also in relation to complex transactions with lenders and/or subsidiary bodies.
Cases involving litigation in which she has advised on the charity law implications include those relating to the Church Commissioners and the RSPCA.
Recent casework of particular interest not involving litigation include advising the trustees of the following charities: The Royal Society; the Royal Hospital Chelsea; Greenwich Hospital; Trinity House; the Recreation Ground, Bath; and the Hastings & St Leonards Foreshore Charitable Trust.
Her experience in charity law has led to Francesca being asked to advise comparable organisations which are not charities such as the Catenian Association and the Aetherius Society.
Francesca is a member (and previous executive committee member) of the Charity Law Association, for whom she drafted its model governing documents for charities (now in their 3rd edition). Her other publications include the charities volumes in Butterworth’s Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents and Sweet & Maxwell’s looseleaf ‘Charities: the Law and Practice’ with Douglas Cracknell and others and various articles and case notes for the Charity Law & Practice Review and other journals. She regularly delivers lectures, seminars and in-house courses on charity law and management for Central Law Training, and sometimes for STEP and the Chancery Bar Association.
Francesca has been keenly involved in the reform of charity law since giving evidence to the Tumim Committee of the NCVO in 2001 and was a member of NCVO’s Advisory Group on the Reform of Charity Law in 2011-12. She was recently invited to give evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), which is reviewing the implementation and operation of the Charities Act 2006.
Francesca has been an adviser to the National Association of Almshouses since 1989 and a trustee of the Association of Charitable Foundations, the Bishopsgate Foundation, Charity Forum, St Peter’s Home & Sisterhood (Woking) for 14 years, Dulwich College for 5 years and Elizabeth Finn Care, whose Homes subsidiary she also chaired for three years for 18 years.
Francesa is recommended by the directories as a leading barrister for Traditional Chancery and Education and as a Star Individual for Charity law. Editorial has included the following comments: