The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom has issued a “final ruling” telling the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain that it cannot stop the Charity Commission from investigating the charity. This ruling could end the Watchtower’s last gasp efforts to derail the Charity Commission’s inquiries.
We expect the result could be a series of hearings that rival those of the 2015 Australian Charity Commission.
The 2015 Australian Royal Commission hearings found that the Watchtower’s methods of dealing with child abusers within their congregations were woefully deficient and failed to protect victims – at least in Australia.
We can only hope the UK Charity Commission discovers those same problems and will find ways to initiate changes.
It is very likely that the Royal Commission could find that the Watchtower’s branches in Great Britain and the UK have similar problems in the Kingdom Halls they oversee. UK Jehovah’s Witness elders follow similar rules and procedures that were found faulty during the Australian investigations when dealing with reports of child abuse. It is certain that there are many serious problems needing to be addressed. That could mean substantial changes to Jehovah’s Witness methods of investigating, managing, and reporting child molesters and other criminals among their members. It is likely the Commission will require the Witnesses to change their implementation of “biblical guidelines” to allow for the involvement of secular authorities, investigators, and therapists when dealing with child abuse victims and those who endanger them.
Latest News on the Charity Commission investigation: LINK
Recent History and Rulings:
The Charity Commission opens a statutory inquiry to examine Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain’s safeguarding of children and minors methods. A congregation member and child abuse survivor alleged the charity had not done enough to protect her from her abuser, who was also a member of the church (May 2014).
Charity Commission estimates that it could take several weeks to reach a judgment in the Watchtower charity case (February 11, 2016).
Jehovah’s Witness charity wins right to apply for judicial review of the commission’s order, but judges rule that the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain is not entitled to apply for a judicial review into the scope of a statutory inquiry (March 15, 2016).
Supreme Court tells Jehovah’s Witness charity it cannot stop inquiry (August 11, 2016). That was a “final ruling” and opens the way for hearings to begin when the Commission is ready.
That Supreme Court ruling represented the last chance for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower “charity” to prevent the Charity Commission from investigating how it handles allegations of child abuse. The Court of Appeal had ruled earlier in March that Watchtower could not appeal against the opening of an inquiry. However, that same month the WTBTS won the right to apply for a judicial review hearing against a Commission order that it hand over “sensitive documents” as part of its statutory inquiry.
The Commission opened a statutory inquiry in May 2014 to examine WTBTSB’s safeguarding measures after a congregation member and child abuse survivor alleged the charity had not done enough to protect her from her abuser, who was also a member of the church.
A July 11, 2016, Supreme Court ruling prevents the Watchtower from taking its challenge any further within the British courts.
Chris Willis Pickup, the Commission’s head of litigation, welcomed the ruling. “Following two years of legal proceedings in five different courts and tribunals, the Supreme Court has finally brought Watch Tower’s challenge to our inquiry decision to an end,” he said.
“In the two years since we opened our inquiry, we have received a number of statements and helpful evidence from variety of sources, but limited information from Watch Tower.
“Watch Tower continues to challenge an order we made in 2014 seeking information and documents about its safeguarding practices.
“Following the Supreme Court’s decision, we hope that the charity will now engage with our investigation constructively so that we are able to establish the facts and understand the charity’s safeguarding policy, procedures and practices in their full context.”
He said the Commission would encourage anyone affected by safeguarding in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses to contact the Commission.
A spokesman for WTBTS told Third Sector: “We are looking at the ruling carefully and we are evaluating where we can go next.”
The Commission is investigating how Watch Tower safeguards children and adults at risk. It has sought access to the registered charity’s records since 2014. Watch Tower disputes the legal basis of the Commission’s inquiry and its order seeking documents from the charity. Today’s hearing forms part of its longstanding litigation against the Commission. The Commission has argued that the Charity Tribunal is the proper venue for such cases. It has warned that if the Court rules otherwise, it may risk excluding less well-funded charities from accessing justice via the less costly Tribunal.
The Commission is committed to robustly investigating allegations that charities do not have adequate safeguarding policies and practices. It continues to defend its statutory inquiry into Watch Tower. It encourages people who were affected by safeguarding in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in England and Wales to make contact with the inquiry’s lead investigator Jonathan Sanders at:
Members of the public can contact the Commission with any safeguarding or other concerns about charities via Complain about a charity. Here is access to a list of Watchtower registered charities: LINK
[Portions of the above report were culled and adapted from several news sources in the UK. Special mention goes to The Third Sector’s‘s most recent article. LINK ] For those not in the UK, here is a general description of the Third Sector:
“Third Sector is the UK’s leading publication for everyone who needs to know what’s going on in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector.”