Supreme Court tells Jehovah's Witness charity it cannot stop inquiry

The court's ruling puts an end to attempts by the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain to block an investigation into how it handles child abuse allegations

The Supreme Court has issued a final ruling telling the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain that it cannot stop the Charity Commission from opening a statutory inquiry into the charity.

The Supreme Court represented the last chance for the Jehovah’s Witness charity to prevent the Charity Commission from investigating how it handles allegation of child abuse after the Court of Appeal also ruled in March that it could not appeal against the opening of an 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.

The Supreme Court ruling, handed down on 11 July, means WTBTSB cannot take its challenge any further within the British courts.

Chris Willis Pickup, head of litigation at the commission, 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."

In March, 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. 

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