The Jehovah’s Witnesses charity has now decided to drop efforts to block an investigation into how it has handled the allegations of sexual abuse, after more than two years.
An inquiry was launched by The Charity Commission in May 2014 after receiving numerous allegations from survivors of rape and sexual abuse who alleged that they were forced to come face to face their attackers in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s “judicial committees”.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses resisted the investigation into the Watch Tower Bible Tract Society of Great Britain (WTBTS) The WTBTS oversees the UK’s 1,500 congregations and plays a key role in deciding how abuse claims are handled.
The WTBTS made several legal challenges to the inquiry. The challenges included an attempt to challenge the commission’s decision to start an investigation and challenged the production orders that would oblige it to give the commission access to records showing how it handled the allegations.
Last week the commission announced that, more than two and a half years after the investigation was launched, the WTBTS had shared some of the documents it had been seeking and cancelled the production order. The charity has now dropped the last of its legal cases against the inquiry.
A spokesman for the WTBTS said: “In light of the progress of the inquiry and the information obtained by the commission from Watch Tower and other sources, the commission has agreed to revoke the production order. Watch Tower has therefore agreed to withdraw its application for judicial review of the production order and a consent order has been filed with the high court to conclude the proceedings. Watch Tower will now work with the commission to explore the issues that are the subject of the statutory inquiry and to address the commission’s regulatory concerns.”
Two women, in separate cases, told the Guardian last year that the church can disfellowship people from the congregations for minor offences, but their abusers had been allowed to remain in the church. One of the victims, which was raped as an adult, said she “had been urged by senior congregation members, known as elders, to face her rapist at a private hearing, leaving her completely traumatised and leading to the breakup of her marriage.”
Thomas Beale, of AO Advocates, who last year won a civil case in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses had failed to protect a woman from sexual abuse, said “the commission’s decision to drop its production order could allow the charity to withhold further information. Of course we welcome the ongoing statutory inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses’ safeguarding policies and look forward to reviewing its findings. We struggle to see how a thorough and robust investigation can occur now that the Charity Commission has decided to revoke its production order. We think the chance of full disclosure now by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very small.”
Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, said the WTBTS should apologise to those affected for the “appalling delays” caused by its litigation. Maxted said she hoped the decision to share information with the commission signalled a change in their approach to the needs of victims and survivors.
Jordans are currently representing a large number of client’s who have suffered sexual and physical abuse. We would encourage anyone affected to contact Jordans and pursue a civil claim.