On 3 March 2015, Judge Alison McKenna ruled against the Watchtower Society application for more time to address the statutory inquiry opened by the Charity Commission on the 27 May 2014.
On 5 June, 2014, the Charity Commission wrote to the Watchtower Society describing its concerns relating to “recent criminal trials, the Charity’s safeguarding policy and the public interest in how the Charity and congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with safeguarding matters.”
The Charity Commission indicated that it had opened a statutory inquiry concerning these matters. There are two investigations, separate, but linked.
According to the judgment on the 3 March, the Watchtower Society failed to apply to the Tribunal within 42 days of its intention to appeal against the inquiry. The Watchtower Society therefore asked for an extension of time to make that appeal. The time extension was refused as the Judge considered it part of a “litigation strategy.”
The judgment also indicates that “The Charity” known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society “has not yet complied with the Production Order and the Charity Commission has taken no action to enforce compliance with it, pending the conclusion of legal proceedings.”
The Production Order relates to a Safeguarding Policy and other relevant documents. It would appear the Watchtower Society’s “litigation strategy” is one of delay and possible non-compliance in producing the requested documents.
The Watchtower Society argued that it sent its Notice of Appeal to the Tribunal on 22 December 2014. This was beyond the 42 day time limit for applications to the Tribunal but it included an application for an extension of time, as required by rule 26 (5).
The Watchtower Society explained that they had delayed making an application to the Tribunal pending the determination of its application for judicial review of the decision to open the inquiry and to serve the Production Order.
(A judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. A court with judicial review power may invalidate laws and decisions that are incompatible with a higher authority).
In the event, the Administrative Court refused the Watchtower Society permission to apply for judicial review.
The Judge in this latest judgment noted:
“The Charity (The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain) will not be able to challenge the decisions that the Respondent has made if its application to proceed out of time is not allowed. I accept that that is a serious matter. However, it seems to me that the Charity, in adopting the litigation strategy it did, must have factored that risk into account.
The Respondent (The Charity Commission) has already delayed its inquiry and the enforcement of compliance with the Production Order for over six months while the Charity mounted a challenge to its decisions, in the forum of its choice. It does not seem to me that it would be fair and just to allow the Charity to start new proceedings in the Tribunal now and thus and delay matters further, having taken the course that it did.”
So the Watchtower Society lost on all counts, the earlier judicial review request, the appeal and the request for more time. The Charity Commission’s statutory inquiry will hopefully now move swiftly forward to address the many safeguarding concerns raised by historical and recent child abuse cases.
FIRST-TIER TRIBUNAL (CHARITY) GENERAL REGULATORY CHAMBER
Appellant – The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain
Respondent – THE CHARITY COMMISSION FOR ENGLAND AND WALES
Full Judgment (PDF) Link
Charity Commission – Investigates Jehovah’s Witness Charities Link
There are two investigations, separate, but linked.
Third Sector – Jehovah’s Witnesses refused leave to appeal to charity tribunal over regulatory action Link
JWR article – UK Charity Commission investigates Jehovah’s Witnesses Link
The Independent – Jehovah’s Witness abuse victims quizzed by their attacker at church Link
Manchester Evening News – Convicted pedophile allowed to grill his victims at Jehovah’s Witness meeting Link