Royal Commission scope questioned in Jehovah’s Witnesses judicial review

Royal Commission

The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Limited has filed an application for judicial review regarding the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Abuse in Care.

It is seeking the review as well as a High Court declaration saying the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) church does not assume responsibility for the care of children, young people, or vulnerable people.

A statement from the Commission says the JW Congregation believes it is outside the scope of the Royal Commission’s terms of reference.

It notes the Congregation claims there are no instances of abuse by the Jehovah Witnesses’ faith within scope of the Inquiry. This is based on the evidence before the Royal Commission, together with several other declarations about the Royal Commission’s process.

The Commission offered no further comment because the matter is now before the courts.

However, it has emailed JW abuse survivors, saying it is treating the judicial review request as a priority. The Commission also said it acknowledged the news may distress them and they had its support.

Survivors say

Shayne Mechen of survivor group JW for Justice says said the Congregation’s legal action to be exempted from the state-wide investigation is immoral and would not work.

“They don’t care about the ones that have been abused, they only care about their name,” he said.

The argument was based on the JW’s lack of bricks-and-mortar facilities for young people, but that did not mean there was no interaction, Meechin said.

“It’s a kick in the guts [but] we knew it was coming, that’s what they do all the time.

“They have not succeeded in being able to squash the commissions from including them.”

Jehovah’s Witness church says

Spokesperson Tom Pecipajkovski said the Jehovah’s Witnesses had cooperated since 2019 with the Commission “consistently explaining … the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not fall within the scope of this inquiry.

“Despite repeated requests, the Commission has failed to present valid reasons as to why it disagrees” so they had gone to the High Court, Pecipajkovski said.

Whether this means there has been no abuse that might otherwise come within the Royal Commission’s scope was not disclosed.

However, the JW church in Australia can claim no such thing.

During the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 70 victims came forward alleging abuse in Jehovah Witnesses institutions.

Survivors’ network view

A survivors network spokesperson Steve Goodlass said the concern was “other churches coming in behind” the call for a judicial review.

“Churches learn from each inquiry and become more sophisticated as they go.”

The network had already raised the worry the commission might be constrained in looking at bricks-and-mortar institutional abuse.

However, the courts have upheld historical abuse of children when a member of the institution abused them in their own home, Goodlass said.

Catholic church role

The Bishops and Congregational Leaders of the Catholic Church in New Zealand are not involved in the judicial review of matters relating to the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Abuse in Care, a New Zealand bishops conference statement says.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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