Campaigners from Botton Village will return to the High Court after gaining the backing of the Charity Commission for England and Wales.
This follows permission being granted by the commission for action to be brought against Camphill Village Trust (CVT), the charity which operates Botton, regarding changes to existing living and working arrangements.
The 23 claimants in this case are connected to a trio of different Camphill communities at Botton, Delrow in Hertfordshire and the Grange in Gloucestershire.
Their claim is based on their assertion that CVT trustees have acted outside their powers in making the changes that they have to the structure and ethos of the charity.
Traditionally, learning disabled residents have lived alongside volunteer co-workers and their families at Botton, but CVT is proposing to end the long-standing shared-living arrangement and wants to make all volunteer workers paid employees on a permanent basis.
It is claimed the changes are seriously impacting on the lives of the trust’s beneficiaries, effectively forcing segregation of the residents from their able-bodied co-worker families.
The case will now be heard in the Chancery Division of the High Court where campaigners will argue that CVT’s governing documents prevent the charity from making these alterations.
In granting permission, the Charity Commission said it was assured that the claimants were keen to try to resolve the dispute out of court.
In a letter to the claimants’ solicitors granting them permission to take legal action, the commission’s Bethan Wilkins-Jones, stated: ‘It is disappointing to read that the other party [CVT] is not prepared to engage in alternative dispute resolution unless and until the commission authorises proceedings.’
Julian Haxby, who is a leading voice of the group of 23 co-workers and parents of residents, and whose brother is a resident at Delrow, said: “We are delighted that the Charity Commission has given us permission to take this matter to trial.
“We have always wished to avoid this and have repeatedly urged the charity to enter into formal dispute resolution to find common ground for the sake of our beneficiaries.
“We sincerely hope CVT now sees sense and comes to the table with an open mind to end this hugely damaging dispute.”
Responding to the development, CVT’s chief executive Huw John said: “We recognise and respect the Charity Commission’s decision to allow the beliefs of those campaigning against the charity to be tested in court.
“If the administrative tests set by the Commission are met it is only right that the matter should pass to the court to adjudicate over - if this is what claimants wish.
“This does not represent a legal decision or a victory. It is merely an acknowledgement that, as the Charity Commission puts it, the case ‘appears to meet the threshold of being properly pleaded.’
“In fact, the commission continues, in their decision letter, to ‘urge the applicants to continue to seek to minimise costs and engage in good faith in any opportunity alternative to dispute resolution that may arise.’
“The charity is currently preparing for this alternative dispute resolution.
“We hope the case will be dismissed by the court, as has been the case with other court action brought by the campaigners.”
In April, the High Court dismissed claims from villagers at Botton that their human rights would be breached by CVT’s proposals.
Responding to Mr John’s comments, Neil Davidson, chairman of campaign group Action for Botton, said: “We at Action for Botton welcome Mr John’s committment that CVT will now engage positively and creatively in the mediation process.
“We have throughout tried to get CVT to do just that, but they have consistently refused to share information and refused to discuss ways forward together.
“If Mr John is genuine we challenge him to start being open to genuine discussion.
“It was CVT that refused mediation until effectively forced to it by the Charity Commission and no amount of spin can disguise that fact.”