24 Apr 2024

Abuse in Care inquiry: Jehovah's Witness appeal dismissed

3:28 pm on 24 April 2024
09082016. Photo Rebekah Parsons-King. Pike River families want mine's CEO to face charges. Court of Appeal Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A legal bid by the Jehovah's Witness church challenging a ruling by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

At the Wellington court in March, the church appealed a High Court ruling that dismissed its claim to be excluded from the investigation.

Lawyer Sarah Jerebine disputed the decision to broaden the scope of the inquiry from institutional care to trust-based relationships.

She said the amendment was unlawful because it went beyond the original purpose of the inquiry.

The Jehovah's Witness church maintains it should be exempt because it did not run institutions that cared for children or vulnerable people.

The legal team representing the government and the commission argued extending the scope of the inquiry was not unusual.

Andrew Butler KC said expanding the scope had benefited victims and was intended to allow survivors of any faith to come forward.

In the Court of Appeal's judgment, Justice Cooke said the court did not accept the appellant's arguments.

He said the commission was entitled to pursue the lines of inquiry that it did.

"The only theoretical possibility that then remains would be an argument that the commission had acted unlawfully when initially obtaining information [from the Jehovah's Witnesses] prior to the amendment, and that this material cannot now be used by the commission in the report.

"However, Ms Jerebine confirmed that no argument to that effect is advanced by the Jehovah's Witnesses."

As for the second argument, Justice Cooke said the fact the church had argued its case in court twice showed its right to justice had not been taken away.

He said the court did not accept the claim that the Crown had targeted the faith.

"Rather, it is the Jehovah's Witnesses who have sought to single themselves out as a group who should be excluded from scrutiny by the inquiry, and they have done so notwithstanding the evidence of abuse committed by members of the church."

The argument has been dismissed and the church must pay the government the costs for a standard appeal.

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