Aid volunteer who helped Bosnian Muslims appointed head of UK charity watchdog

Barrister Orlando Fraser pledges to ensure regulator is 'fair, balanced and independent'

Orlando Fraser, new chairman of the UK's Charity Commission, says he will focus on 'supporting trustees in getting it right'. Photo: UK government

A lawyer who ran aid missions to help Bosnian Muslims has been appointed chairman of the UK's charity watchdog.

Barrister Orlando Fraser, who has been volunteering on aid missions for more than 30 years, pledged to ensure the Charity Commission is “fair, balanced and independent”.

Mr Orlando’s involvement in the voluntary sector stretches back to 1992, when he took an aid convoy to Bosnia to help its Muslim population during the Yugoslav Wars.

He has also served on the management committee of a London refuge for domestic abuse victims and as a governor of Ilfracombe College, in Devon, south-west England.

Mr Fraser has also supported the Rugby Portobello Trust children's — a youth and family support charity. The trust helped support those affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in west London, in which 72 people were killed.

He has been a barrister for 28 years and served for five years as a board member of the commission under former head William Shawcross, who is now the independent reviewer of the UK government's Prevent anti-radicalisation scheme.

“Not only do I have great pride in the work of the Charity Commission itself, but I am also highly positive about the role the sector itself plays in society,” Mr Fraser said.

“I know from personal experience that it is often only the work that charities do that provides any hope or light when we have a disaster on our hands, whether it is tragedies like Grenfell, or the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We truly have a great voluntary sector, and it will therefore be both an honour, and a pleasure, to be leading its regulator over the next few years.”

“The commission’s role requires us to act as enforcer where needed, holding charities to account for meeting basic standards,” he said.

“We are there to ensure those numerous acts of kindness and love in the sector can thrive in a secure environment, and sometimes we have to be robust to do so.

“We have to investigate where there are concerns about a charity, and we have to take action where there is proven misconduct or mismanagement.

“As wrongdoing in one charity can undermine trust in charities more widely, there will be times when the commission will need to be very robust both to protect charities from abuse and maintain public trust and confidence in the sector.

“You can therefore expect that the commission, under me, will deal commensurately, and, if needed, severely, with the intentional wrongdoers, the fraudsters, the extremists, the aggressors, and the grossly negligent — all of whom, in their own way, are poisoning charitable status for everyone else.”

Mr Fraser said when charities have suffered incidents he will ensure the commission works with them to rectify it and get back on track.

“No matter how successful the charitable endeavour, we all know that the best laid plans of mice and men go astray sometimes, even with the most professional risk analysis that you can find,” he said.

“I’ve seen it happen with aid convoys, charitable fundraisers, and disaster responses — the key is not the error, but how you recover from it.

“So, rather than criticise an otherwise successful charity excessively for honest and reasonable mistakes, I will be keen for the commission to focus on supporting trustees in getting it right, when things don’t go exactly to plan — as they often don’t. So, there will be occasions when the commission will be very robust, but equally you will see a supportive side to us — it is a question of achieving the right overall balance over time between challenge and encouragement, and it is something to which I want the commission to pay attention.”

His term is due to last for three years.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 6:09 PM