Feb 19, 2016

Charity Commission in court over Jehovah's Witness charity investigation

Emily Corfe 
Civil Society Media
February 11, 2016

The Charity Commission has defended its inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, following the Jehovah’s Witness charity's fourth appeal against what it describes as an "unlawful investigation".

The charity became subject to a Charity Commission statutory inquiry after revelations emerged that a man accused of child abuse was allowed to question his accusers as part of a “disfellowship” process to decide whether he should remain a member of the congregation.

The statutory inquiry into the charity’s safeguarding procedures has been the subject of a long-running legal case, with the Charity Commission attempting to access Watch Tower’s records since 2014 and the charity in turn accusing the regulator of conducting an unlawful investigation.

Watch Tower has launched a total of four appeals since 2014, against decisions by the High Court and Charity Tribunal which ruled in favour of the Charity Commission. The charity is seeking permission to challenge the statutory inquiry, but following yesterday’s hearing at the Court of Appeal, no decision was reached.

Yesterday the regulator said it was “committed to robustly investigating allegations that charities do not have adequate safeguarding policies and practices” and “continues to defend its statutory inquiry into Watch Tower”.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission told Civil Society News, that the regulator was arguing for the case to be heard by the Charity Tribunal instead of the High Court, to prevent costly legal wranglings for other charities in the future.

“If the Court rules otherwise, it may risk excluding less well-funded charities from accessing justice via the less costly Tribunal,” the spokesman said.

“The Charities Act set up the Charity Tribunal to make access to justice cheaper, so that charities don’t have to go to the High Court with expensive QCs. Watch Tower is appealing this investigation for the fourth time but if they are allowed to win and have the case heard at the High Court, it could be confusing at best for charities and at worst, it could be that charities feel they have to go to the High Court rather than the Charity Tribunal.

“That would defeat the whole object that the Charity Tibunal is cheaper for charities. A charity like the Jehovah’s Witness can afford the high court but most charities can’t.”

The Charity Commission is appealing for anyone affected by safeguarding in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in England and Wales to make contact with the inquiry lead investigator Jonathan Sanders.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain told Civil Society News it would be “premature to say anything at this point” about the latest appeal.

“Once the Court has rendered its decision we shall be pleased to comment,” a spokesman for the charity said.


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