25 Oct 2023

Jehovah's Witness' bid to be excluded from abuse inquiry dismissed

5:43 pm on 25 October 2023
Te Kuiti Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses

File image. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A legal bid by the Jehovah's Witness church to get out of being part of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care has been dismissed by the High Court in Wellington.

After nearly three years of behind-the-scenes legal wrangling to avoid scrutiny from the Inquiry, the church applied for a judicial review in June.

At a hearing, held earlier this month it argued it was beyond the inquiry's scope because it did not operate institutions that cared for children or vulnerable people and the inquiry had uncovered no evidence of abuse in that context.

Lawyers representing the Inquiry argued that Jehovah's Witness elders - equivalent to ministers or pastors - exercised a level of control over the congregation that allowed them access to children.

The inquiry informed abuse survivors who gave evidence to the inquiry in relation to the Jehovah's Witnesses of the news this afternoon.

"We have received advice from the High Court that none of the causes of action brought by the Jehovah's Witnesses has succeeded and the application for judicial review has been dismissed. The judge's reasons are not yet available, but are expected in the near future," the email to survivors, seen by RNZ, said.

The church was the only faith-based institution in the country to legally challenge its involvement in the inquiry, although it had attempted to challenge its status in other countries where similar inquiries have also been carried out.

The inquiry said, in a statement, that the dismissal "means the Royal Commission can continue to investigate the Jehovah's Witnesses, and all other faiths, in accordance with the pastoral care approach we have been applying since 2019".

"Reasons for the High Court's judgment are not yet available but are expected in the near future. Until we receive the full judgment we are not able to make any further comment."

A recent RNZ investigation revealed how the church has kept the presence of child abusers attending congregations hidden from most of its followers and had policies that protected abusers over victims, amid claims an elder was told to destroy church documents relating to child sexual abuse cases.

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