The Charity Commission and the Jehovah’s Witnesses: an update

The Charity Commission and the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society have settled their legal proceedings and the Commission’s inquiry into safeguarding concerns is to continue.

In June 2014 the Commission opened separate statutory inquiries into two Jehovah’s Witness charities: The Watch Tower Bible and Society of Britain – the JWs’ national body – and the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The purposes of the inquiries is to investigate how the JWs safeguard children and adults at risk. 

To recap: in Tayo & Ors (Trustees of Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses) v Charity Commission for England and Wales [2015] FtT(C) CRR/2014/0005, a three-person tribunal presided over by TJ McKenna rejected the trustees’ application for a review of the Commission’s decision to begin a statutory inquiry into their charity. The Commission had become initially involved when, in 2012, it was informed that a former trustee, Mr Jonathan Rose, was awaiting trial for sexual offences. In October 2013, Rose was convicted of sexual offences against children – who, at the time of the offences some ten years previously, had been associated with the New Moston Congregation – and sentenced to nine months in prison. In November 2013, however, it came to light that it had been alleged during Rose’s trial that the New Moston Congregation’s elders had been aware of similar complaints about him in 1995 – which had not been mentioned to the Commission during the original operational case. As a result, the Commission opened a second operational case in December 2013 [4].

Following Rose’s release from prison in 2014, the Commission heard that he had been accepted back into the Congregation and that there had been a “disfellowshipping hearing”. His victims – now adults – had been forced to attend that hearing and answer questions (including from Rose himself) about the offences for which he had been convicted. The Commission was informed that the hearing’s purpose was to allow the elders/charity trustees to decide whether Rose could remain a member of the Congregation [5]. A subsequent meeting between the charity and the Commission was inconclusive, with conflicting minutes being produced by both sides [6].

As part of its investigations, the Commission had issued a Production Order requiring the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society to disclose certain documents. The charity sought judical review of the decision to initiate the inquiry and the order for production of documents. As we noted at the time, in Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Britain & Ors v The Charity Commission [2016] EWCA Civ 154, the Court of Appeal held that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society might apply for judicial review of the Commission’s Production Order but refused to quash the Inquiry Decision. Subsequently, the Supreme Court refused to give the JWs permission to appeal on the Inquiry Decision point.

In a statement on Thursday, the Charity Commission said that it had “obtained additional information from the charity and other sources” and has therefore withdrawn the order, while the charity had withdrawn its application for judicial review. The statement continues:

“With the legal proceedings now settled, the Commission will continue to work with the charity to establish the facts and understand the charity’s safeguarding policy, procedures and practices in order to explore the issues that are the subject of the ongoing statutory inquiry and address the Commission’s regulatory concerns. The inquiry remains ongoing and the Commission will publish a report of its findings at its conclusion.”

The investigation into the Manchester New Moston Congregation is also continuing.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "The Charity Commission and the Jehovah’s Witnesses: an update" in Law & Religion UK, 19 January 2017, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2017/01/19/the-charity-commission-and-the-jehovahs-witnesses-an-update/

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  1. Pingback: Charity Commission inquiry report: New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses | Law & Religion UK

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