In its decision in Family First New Zealand v Attorney General [2020] NZCA 366, the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier High Court decision which found Family First New Zealand (“Family First”) was ineligible for charitable status.

The Court of Appeal looked at:

  • whether the High Court was wrong to conclude that the Family First was not a trust for, educational purposes (which are presumptively charitable);
  • whether the High Court was wrong to conclude that Family First was not a trust for an other charitable purpose, that of promoting families and marriages as a benefit to society; and
  • if the High Court was wrong in either of those conclusions, whether Family First had non-charitable purposes of more than a merely ancillary nature which, notwithstanding, disqualified it from registration as a charity.

The majority held on the first point that Family First commissions valuable research promoting knowledge on marriage and families, and that the related public discussion and debate is desirable for the development of policies and laws. This was despite the fact that, as noted by the minority, Family First described itself as spending 75% of its time on advocating for certain causes, and the other 25% on administration and fundraising, with no mention of education.

On the second point, the majority held that Family First was advancing the self-evidently important role of families in society and core family values, and that Family First’s activities had a clear public benefit. The minority considered that the focus on family as a “self-evident public good” did not meet the required public benefit threshold.

On the third point, the majority held that Family First’s advocacy was no more than ancillary to its charitable purpose. However, the minority disagreed ardently. The minority considered advocacy to be a core, and not merely ancillary, aspect of Family First’s purposes.

The Attorney General has sought leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.