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Charity in United Kingdom

Definition of Charity

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Charity :

A body (corporate or not) established for one of the charitable purposes specified by statute (See charitable trust). A charity is subject to the control of the High Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to charities. With certain exceptions, all charities are required to be registered with the *Charity Commissioners.

Concept of Charity

The following is an old definition of Charity [1], a term which has several meanings:1. In its widest sense, all the good affections men ought to bear toward each other; in a restricted and common sense, relief of the poor. The benevolence which limits itself to giving alms to the poor comes within the restricted definition but falls far short of that true charity which has its origin in the two great sources of all good deeds – the love of God and the love of man. In considering what is lawful to be done on the Lord’s day, ” charity ” includes everything which proceeds from a sense of moral duty, or a feeling of kindness and humanity, and is intended wholly for the relief or comfort of another, and not for one’s own benefit or pleasure. Charity is active goodness. It is doing good to our fellow-men. It is fostering those institutions that are established to relieve pain, to prevent suffering, and to do good to manliind in general or to any class or portion of mankind. The term no doubt takes on shades of meaning f rojn the Christian religion. See further Sunday

Alternative Meaning

A gift, devise, or trust, intended to promote a charitable use. In law, charity and eiaritable use are convertible terms. The latter was originally employed in contradistinction to ” superstitious use,” and designated such ” good and worthy use ” as was deemed not within the purview of statute 23 Hen. VIIl (1532), c. 10, which abolished certain uses invented by the clergy. But, inasmuch as that statute swept away many meritorious uses, statute 1 Edw. VI (1547), c. 14, was passed to legalize, as recited in the preamble, several “good and godly uses” – such as schools for educating the youth, provision for the poor, etc. This preamble became the germ of the law of ! charitable uses.” Before 1347, such uses had never been grouped together as a distinct class, and peculiar principles applied to them. Since the enactment of statute 43 Eliz. (1601), c. 4, no uses have been regarded as ” charitable ” except uses within the letter or spirit of that statute; and these are wholly ” public ” in nature. What is a charity is rather a matter of description than of definition. A charity is a gift for a public use; as, a gift in aid of the poor, to learning, to religion, to a humane object. A precise definition of a legal charity is hardly to be found in the books. The one most commonly used in modem cases, originating in the judgment of Sir William Grant, confirmed by that of Lord Eldon, in Morice’s Case, 9th and 10th Vesey, ante – that those purposes are considered charitable which are enumerated in the statute of 43 Elizabeth, or which by analogy are deemed within its spirit and intendment- leaves something to be desired in point of certainty, and suggests no principle. Mr. Binney, in his argument in the Girard Will Cuse. p. 41 (1844), defined a charitable or pious gift to be ” whatever is given for the love of God, or for the love of your neighbor, in the catholic and universal sense – given for these motives, and to these ends – free from the stain or taint of every consideration that is personal, private and selfish; ” and this definition was approved in Price’s Case, 28th Pa.ante. A more concise and practical rule is that of Lord Camden, adopted by Chancellor Kent, by Lord Lyndhurst, and by the Supreme Court of the United States – ” A gift to a general public use, which extends to the poor as well as the rich.” Jones v. Williams, Ambl. 652 (1767); Coggeshall v. Pelton, 7 Johns. Ch. 294 (1823); Mitford v. Reynolds, 1 Phil. Ch. 191 (1842); Perin v. Carey, 24 How. 506 (1860). A charity, in the legal sense, may be more fully defined as a gift, to be applied consistently with existing laws, for the benefit of an indefinite number of persons, either by bringing their minds or hearts under the influence of education or religion, by relieving their bodies from disease, suffering, or constraint, by assisting them to establish them-selves in life, or by creating or maintaining public buildings or works, or otherwise lessening the burdens of government. It is immaterial whether the purpose is called ” charitable ” in the gift itself, it it is so described as to show that it is charitable in its nature. A testator must be taken to have used the word ” charitable ” in its legal sense. The statute of Elizabeth is the principal source of legal charities,- has become the general rule of charities. The signification of the word is chiefly derived from it, and not from the popular understanding of “good affection ” between men, nor of relief of the poor. That statute names as distinct charities: 1, relief of the aged, impotent, and poor; 2, maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners; 3, schools of learning; 4, free schools; 5, scholars iu the universities; 6, houses of correction; 7, repair of bridges, ports, havens, causeways, churches, sea-banks, highways; 8, the education and preferment of orphans; 9, marriage of poor maids; 10, support and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen, persons decayed; 11, relief and redemption of prisoners or captives; 12, aid of the poor in paying taxes; 13, setting out of soldiers. These charities are but instances under three general classes: 1, relief and assistance of the poor and needy; 2, promotion of education; 3, maintenance of public buildings and w orks. The inquiry in each case is: Is the purpose of the gift within the principle and reason of the statute, although not expressly named in it. Gifts for repairing a church, for building an organ gallery, for erecting and maintaining a parsonage, for the worship of God, for the advancement of Christianity, for the benefit of ministers of the gospel, have been held to be valid charities. The statute of Elizabeth was simply remedial and ancillary to the common law. Courts of equity had, and still have, an original and inherent common-law jurisdiction over charities, except in a few States, as in Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. While the provisions of the statute of Elizabeth have been re-enacted in some States, in others new purposes have been enumerated. In Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia, the statute seems to have been repudiated; in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massaohusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and in some other States, it is still in force. A good charitable use is “public,” not in the sense that it must be executed openly and in public, but in the sense of being so general and indefinite in its objects as to be deemed of common and public benefit. Each individual benefited may be private, and the charity may be distributed in private and by a private hand. Opposed is a “private charity: ” not a public or general charity, in view of the statute of Elizabeth or of a court of chancery, but an association for the mutual benefit of the contributors and of no others. Such a case wants the essential element of indefiniteness in the immediate objects, if not that of gratuity in the contribution. A charitable use is essentially shifting. When a trust defines the beneficiaries with certainty, it is rather private than public. ” Charity begins where uncertainty of the beneficiaries begins.” When private property is appropriated to the support of education for the benefit pf the public without any view to profit, it constitutes a charity which is purely public. Trusts for public charitable purposes must be for the beneflt of an indefinite number of persons; for, if all the beneficiaries are personally designated, the trust lacks the element of indefiniteness, which is one characteristic of a legal charity. If the founder describes the ‘general nature of the trust, he may leave the details of its administration to be settled by trustees under the superintendence of a corut of chancery. If the general object of a bequest is pointed out, or if the testator has provided a means of doing so by the appointment of trustees with that power, the gift will be treated as sufficiently definite for judicial cognizance. When a charitable trust has been fully constituted, and the funds have passed into the hands of the institution or organization intended for its administration, the court of chancery becomes its legal guardian and protector, and will take care that the objects of the trust are duly pursued, and the funds rightfully appropriated. But where contributions to a charity are proposed to be made upon certain express Conditions, the rights of the donors stand upon contract; and if the conditions are not performed, their obligation to contribute is discharged. A devise to a corporation in favor of a charity is valid. There is no implication, in such case,that the corporation is of a “religious ” nature. Where there is a valid devise to a, corporation in trust for charitable purposes, the sovereign may enforce the execution of the trust, by changing the administrator, if the corporation be dissolved, or, if not, by modifying and enlarging its franchises, provided the trust be not perverted, and no wrong be done to the beneficiaries. Equity will not enforce a trust whose object is the propagation of atheism, infidelity, immorality, or hostility to the existing forms of government. The essentials to a valid charity are: ability in the donor; capacity in the donee; an instrument or means whereby it is given; a thing to be given; a legal purpose; a gift not absolute, but available through the medium of a trust. Equity will not admmister a foreign charity, unless it be valid under the laws of both States, and the trustee has capacity to receive and carry out the trust. 1 By the law of England, before the statute of Elizabeth, and by the law of this country at the present day (except where restricted by statute or decision, as in Virginia, Maryland, and New York), trusts for public charitable purposes are upheld under circumstances as to which private trusts would fail. Being for objects of permanent interest and benefit to the public, they may be perpe,tvial in their duration; and tlie instruments creating them should be so construed as to give them effect if possible, and to carry out the general intention of the donor, when clearly manifested, even if the particular form and manner pointed out by him cannot be followed. Board of charities. A board of public charities, in several of the States, is a body of commissioners, appointed by the governor of each State (possibly by and with the consent of one of the houses of the legislature), and charged with the duty of examining into the condition of all charitable, reformatory or correctional institutions in the State; having regard, in particular, to the methods of government and instruction, the official conduct of trustees or officers, the finances, buildings, etc. See American; Association, 3; Benevolence; Cy Pres; Indigent; Legacy; Marshal, 2; Masses; Mortmain; Protestant; Subscribe, 2; Visit, 2.


Notes and References

  1. Meaning of Charity provided by the Anderson Dictionary of Law (1889)

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Charity
  • Author: Agostino Von Hassell
  • Description: Definition of Charity In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Charity : A body (corporate [...]

This entry was last updated: November 4, 2020


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