Last Sunday’s Observer newspaper carried an article titled Christian Legal Centre fights more than 50 religious discrimination cases by Jamie Doward and Seb Wheeler which discusses how this organisation is funded:
Questions have been asked about from where the centre – and its sister organisation, Christian Concern For Our Nation – obtain funding. Accounts show both organisations have little in the way of income.
Williams said all of the centre’s work was done on a pro bono basis by committed Christian lawyers and that what money it had came in small donations from more than 30,000 people who received its regular email updates. “We never ask clients for money,” she said. “Very often they fear losing their case and having to pay the costs of the other side. Part of our ministry is to ensure they are not burdened with that.”
Close observers of the centre believe it is adopting the tactics of wealthy US evangelical groups, notably the powerful Alliance Defence Fund, which, through its Blackstone Legal Fellowship, trains an army of Christian lawyers to defend religious freedom “through strategy, training, funding and direct litigation”.
The ADF, which according to filings had an income of almost $40m last year, is funded by prominent benefactors including Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater private security giant, the Covenant Foundation, which is financed by a leading member of the Texas Christian right, James Leininger, and the Bolthouse Foundation, a charity that rejects evolution, insisting “man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures”.
The ADF has joined forces with the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern For Our Nation to launch the Wilberforce Academy in the UK, which aims to train delegates “for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life” having equipped them “with a robust biblical framework that guides their thinking, prayers and activity in addressing the issues facing our society”. Several of its delegates have already gone on to work for the legal centre and Christian Concern.
Joshua Rozenberg has written for the Guardian website that Belief is not always a good thing in an advocate.
Should advocates believe in the causes they argue in court? Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea.
Barristers who own up to their profession at dinner parties are often asked how they can defend someone who is guilty of a crime. The stock answer is that it’s not the lawyer’s job to decide whether a defendant is guilty: that’s a matter for the court.
Of course, if your client tells you he committed the crime and instructs you to tell the court he didn’t, you must withdraw from the case: a lawyer must never mislead the court. But the advocate’s job is to put forward his client’s case as effectively as possible, however implausible it may seem. That’s well understood by the court; indeed it’s welcomed. What judges don’t like are advocates who are so committed to a case that they lose their objectivity.
These thoughts are prompted by an Observer report that the Christian Legal Centre has some 50 claims of religious discrimination on its books. Many of those that come to court are likely to be argued by Paul Diamond, the centre’s standing counsel.