In an extraordinary detailed record, published in early April 2015, the Charity Tribunal has dismissed the Application for Review of the decision to open a Statutory Inquiry into The Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, registered charity number 1065201.
The background details relate to Jonathan Rose, a former Jehovah’s Witness and former trustee/elder convicted of sexual offences against children.
In November 2013, the Charity Commission known as the “Respondent”, became aware that it had been alleged during Mr Rose’s trial that the Elders of the New Moston Congregation had been aware of complaints of a similar nature about Mr Rose made in 1995.
Previous complaints had not been mentioned to the Respondent during the first operational case opened by the Charity Commission in 2012.
A second operational case was opened on the basis of this new information in December 2013.
Following Jonathan Rose’s release from prison, having served 9 months, in about February 2014, the Charity Commission heard from different sources, firstly, that Mr Rose had been accepted back into the Congregation/Charity and, secondly, that there had been a “disfellowshipping hearing,” at which Mr Rose’s victims (now adults) had been forced to attend a public meeting and answer questions (including from Mr Rose himself) about the offences for which he had been convicted.
The 20 page document reveals fruitless attempts by Jehovah’s Witness lawyers to argue against the opening of a Statutory Inquiry as initiated by the Charity Commission because of safeguarded concerns. Lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses based their arguments on the following:
Ground 1: The decision to initiate the inquiry was disproportionate and/or disproportionately interfered with the Trustees’ rights of religion and of association in accordance with Articles 9 and 11 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act;
Ground 4: The Commission erred in law in its approach to the duties of Trustees;
Ground 6: The Commission has breached the Trustees’ right not to be discriminated [against] contrary to Article 14 HRA (sic).
Jehovah’s Witness lawyers argued that the Charity Commission should have “used less intrusive measures than an inquiry.”
But it was noted, “that the opening of the inquiry” had “concentrated the Charity’s mind on the issues.”
and “that information which had not initially been forthcoming from the Charity had been provided after the opening of the inquiry.”
In a damning explanation as to why the “Application for Review” was dismissed, Judge Alison McKenna decision records:
Mr Steele (counsel, instructed by the Legal Department of the Charity Commission for England and Wales), “asked us to consider whether, if the application had succeeded, we would have been minded to direct the Respondent (the Charity Commission) to close the inquiry.
We agree that it would be helpful to the parties and to the Upper Tribunal to record our thoughts on this, although they are by their nature speculative. We consider that, if we had decided to allow the application on any of the above grounds, we would not have been minded to direct the Respondent to close the inquiry.
This is because we consider that there are significant on-going grounds for concern about the Charity’s conduct of safeguarding matters.
We take into account
(i) the Charity’s failure to be entirely frank with the Respondent about the questioning of victims in the disfellowshipping of Mr Rose at the relevant time;
(ii) the delay in volunteering the information that third parties had been involved in the disfellowshipping of Mr Rose; and
(iii) the Charity’s insistence in these proceedings that there was no legitimate cause for concern by the Respondent about the conduct of those proceedings because of the appointment of third parties to conduct them.
The Charity did not appear from the evidence before us to accept that best practice in safeguarding for charities relates not only to the protection of children but also of vulnerable adults, nor did it appear to have considered whether the Charity might have a safeguarding role in respect of adults who had been abused as children in the Congregation.”
“Finally, we were concerned that, although Mr Clayton accepted in his skeleton argument that the disfellowshipping process for Mr Rose was poorly-handled, there was other material before us which suggested that the arrangement of a confrontation of an accuser by their accused, as happened in Mr Rose’s case, is official guidance for Jehovah’s Witness Congregations. We particularly noted the “Elders’ Handbook” paragraph 39 in this regard.”
Charity Tribunal Decision (PDF) Link
IN THE FIRST-TIER TRIBUNAL (CHARITY) CRR/2014/0005
GENERAL REGULATORY CHAMBER
TAYO, BAILEY, HALLS, JONES, ROWARTH & FLANAGAN (TRUSTEES OF MANCHESTER NEW MOSTON CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES) Applicants –
THE CHARITY COMMISSION FOR ENGLAND AND WALES ￼
DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR REVIEW TRIBUNAL:
JUDGE ALISON MCKENNA, HELEN CARTER, SUSAN ELIZABETH
Sitting in public at Fleetbank House, Salisbury Square, London on 10 March 2015
Richard Clayton QC and of Lee Parkhill of counsel, instructed by Richard Cook, in-house solicitor at the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, for the Applicants
Ian Steele of counsel, instructed by the Legal Department of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, for the Respondent