The Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom has struck down an attempt from Watchtower to try and kill an investigation into their handling of Child Abuse Accusations, according to a press release on the website of the UK Charity Commission dated March 15th.
As previously reported, The Charity Commission had begun an investigation after reports came to light of shocking incident in the New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where survivors of child sexual abuse were forced to confront their abuser face to face in a closed off religious court. It was alleged that, far from this being a one-off incident by a rogue congregation, this in fact reflected the standard practice of all Jehovah’s Witness congregations across the UK, under guidelines handed down and enforced by their parent organisation, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
Since both the New Moston congregation, and Watchtower itself in the UK are registered as charities, the Commission began an investigation with the following purpose, as described on the Commission’s Website:
The inquiry was opened to investigate how Watch Tower safeguards children and adults at risk and has been seeking access to the registered charity’s records since 2014.
It should have been simple; Watchtower and New Moston are UK Charities, and the Charity Commission is the body charged by the UK government with oversight of UK Charities. Yet Watchtower have been fighting tooth and claw in the UK legal system to have their records kept from the Commission and to have the investigation killed off.
These efforts have failed at every turn, and this latest defeat marks yet another step closer to a situation where Watchtower may be compelled to release potentially damaging documents about its handling of child abuse to an official UK investigation.
The ruling amounts to two key points:
- The ruling agrees that the Commission was correct to begin the investigation.
- However, the ruling states that the challenge to the Commission’s requests for documents should be held by a different court. This is due to a legal technicality.
What happens next? The Commission state:
Subject to any appeals, the next step in the litigation will be for the Administrative Court to consider whether Watch Tower has put forward arguable grounds to challenge the Production Order, and therefore whether the Production Order should be assessed by the Administrative Court at a full hearing. The commission continues to defend the issuing of the Order. Subject to any appeal by Watch Tower, its challenge to the opening of the commission’s inquiry is at an end.
In other words, it looks like Watchtower have failed to kill the investigation. The next battle is over the records, which raises a very important question: Why would a UK charity who claim they have nothing to hide be trying so hard to ensure the Charity Commission does not see documents which appear entirely relevant to the matter at hand?
Perhaps because the last time an investigation got their hands on such documents from Watchtower, the results were horrifying.
Or perhaps it is because they can no longer produce such documents, having illegally destroyed them in direct violation of legally binding orders sent out by a separate UK investigation into their handling of child abuse, this time from the high profile and very powerful Goddard Enquiry?
If this latter scenario is the case, the consequences could involve criminal charges.
Either way, it is clear that legal pressure on this issue appears to be mounting on Watchtower’s UK arm from multiple angles, with no let up in sight.
The Charity Commission encourages people who have been affected by safeguarding in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in England and Wales to make contact with the inquiry lead investigator Jonathan Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the public can contact the commission with any safeguarding or other concerns about charities via Complain about a charity.