The Charity Commission has published the findings of its inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain. There is also a press release, here.
The inquiry has a long history. In 2007 the Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the London Mill Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (a separately registered charity – 1065638) as a result of the conviction of an elder for the historic abuse of 13 young people over a period of 15 years. That inquiry found that the Mill Hill Congregation did not have a child protection policy, and in October 2007 there was a meeting between the charity and the Commission at which the charity explained that there was a long history of providing scripturally-based safeguarding guidance to Congregations through their religious publications, but that there was no formal standalone safeguarding policy. It was subsequently agreed that the policy would be developed centrally by the charity for dissemination to all the JW congregations.
The inquiry of which this is the conclusion opened in May 2014 after an elder in Mill Hill was convicted for historic sexual offences. Its scope was to investigate:
- the charity’s handling of safeguarding matters, including the creation, development, substance and implementation of its safeguarding policy;
- the administration, governance and management of the charity and whether or not the trustees have complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities under charity law; and
- the charity’s safeguarding advice provided to congregation charities to the extent not covered by the above.
In August 2014 the charity challenged the decisions to open the inquiry and to issue the production orders. An extended period of litigation followed, which concluded in December 2016 when the Supreme Court refused to allow the charity permission to appeal against the judgment in Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Britain & Ors v The Charity Commission  EWCA Civ 154 dismissing its appeal against the Commission’s decision to open the inquiry.
The report criticises highlights “the lack of transparency over the charity’s role and where the responsibility for safeguarding actually sits in JW has led to confusion and the need to ask further questions and clarification, which has been a significant factor in the time it has taken for the inquiry to conclude”. It also noted the findings of IICSA’s report on its thematic inquiry strand into Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings – which included the JWs. In March 2022 the Kingdom Hall congregation charities merged with the Kingdom Hall Trust, which is now the body responsible for safeguarding.
In conclusion, the inquiry formed the view that the charity’s responses to the Commission had not been “as straightforward and as transparent as they should have been”, though it did not conclude that the trustees had deliberately failed to cooperate with the inquiry.
The charity is not the organisation that is currently directly responsible for the safety of JW beneficiaries, including children. Currently, the child protection policy used by the JWs is prepared in the USA and is a global policy used by JWs across the world.
Following the merger of Kingdom Hall congregation charities with the Kingdom Hall Trust (KHT), charity number 275946, the Commission has engaged with the KHT trustees, who now have responsibility for the governance, management and oversight of all Kingdom Halls. The Commission is working with KHT trustees to ensure that the y have the relevant safeguarding policies, guidance and procedures in place and that they are fulfilling their legal duties and responsibilities appropriately.
Civil Society reports that it contacted Watch Tower for comment and was told that the trustees were pleased that the inquiry was over. A spokesperson for Warch Tower said:
“The Commission’s report confirms that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a child safeguarding policy in place since 2011. That policy, which is updated periodically, builds on decades of published advice and guidance for families and congregations on the subject of child safeguarding. “Expert opinion evidence on the child safeguarding policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses confirms that ‘the current child protection policy of JW provides an adequate framework delivering what it sets out to achieve’ and that it ‘offers clear guidance as to the circumstances which would give rise to making a report to civil authorities.’
In addition, the Commission concludes that there is nothing to suggest the trustees of Watch Tower Britain did anything other than cooperate with the inquiry. In fact, during the inquiry, the Commission’s lead investigators repeatedly commended Watch Tower Britain in written correspondence for working ‘collaboratively,’ contributing to ‘productive meetings’ and fostering a ‘spirit of cooperation’. The trustees will continue with the important charitable activity of Watch Tower Britain.”