Following the ‘Great Reform’ and the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, initially the Freemen were stripped of all their powers. Subsequent legislation in recognition of English law preventing the removal of ‘personal property’ allowed the retention of their ‘personal property’, that being title to personal custom of freedom in a restricted form.
Charity Trusts were set up to preserve certain assets proven to be owed to the individuals at the time of the reform. Many of these were converted by sales into assets held in stocks and shares. These Trusts were then able to issue support to aged and infirmed freemen, their widows, and with nominal distributions of cash to the Freemen.
NB. The Charity Commission has repealed conditions or directions previously given under Sovereign Charters. =
It should be recognised that Freemen no longer had any of their previous powers. However, these Trusts were relatively free to allocate money within reasonable boundaries. This all changed in 1993, with the Huntingdon Case ‘Peggs vs Lamb, April 1993.
This case has caused the Charity Commission to impose certain rulings (and Scheme changes) resulting in it becoming a precedent. (This I believe was incorrectly arrived at by the Judge’s analysis).
In the Chancery Division, Mr Justice Morritt understandably, was astounded by the circumstances of a small number of freemen ‘sharing large sums of money’ realised from the sale of Freemen’s land’.
Firstly, who were these freemen whose powers had been removed under the 1835 Act – surely the Town’s Assets had democratically been devolved to the ‘electorate’. Their ‘Trust’ must surely involve the people of the town and only a moderate share should be available to the Freemen.
Many, if not all, Freemen’s Trusts (and Schemes) have subsequently been modified to accept the ruling that “on behalf of the Freemen” should be interpreted as “on behalf of the Town’s People. Therefore, only nominal amounts can be distributed directly to the Freemen.
It would require a senior Chancery Lawyer to argue against this precedent now being observed by the Charity Commission.
Alan Shelley 28 March 2013