The Upper Tribunal has dismissed an appeal by a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation against a Charity Commission decision to investigate safeguarding concerns.
The regulator opened a statutory inquiry into the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2014.
The charity claimed the decision interfered with the congregation's human rights and amounted to religious discrimination. It applied to the First-Tier Tribunal for a review of the commission's decision, but the tribunal upheld the commission's decision in April 2015.
This prompted the charity to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. The judge hearing the case, Mrs Justice Asplin, concluded the First-Tier Tribunal "was entitled to decide that there was no direct discrimination on the grounds of religion, the inquiry having been opened on the basis of unusual and distinctive factual reasons and… that there were no other comparable cases from which to infer discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs".
Chris Willis Pickup, head of litigation at the commission, said the judgment confirmed that the commission acted lawfully and did not discriminate against the charity because on the basis of religion.
He added: "We regret that public and charity funds have been used on this protracted litigation, but we will continue to defend robustly our legitimate role in investigating serious concerns about charities. We hope and expect that this judgment concludes the litigation on this matter and allows us, and the charity, to focus our efforts on concluding the commission’s inquiry."
Willis Pickup said the commission had continued its investigation during the tribunal action and "aims to conclude and publish a report of the inquiry shortly".
In a statement, the trustees of the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses said they were disappointed with the decision and were taking legal advice on their options.
The statement added: "Notwithstanding the legal proceedings, the trustees have had constructive dialogue with the commission on the issues underlying its statutory inquiry. The trustees look forward to building on that dialogue with the commission and assisting the commission to fulfil its statutory objectives."