Jehovah’s Witness church seeks exemption from royal commission abuse in care inquiry

Radio New Zealand [Wellington, New Zealand]

June 2, 2023

The Jehovah’s Witness church has filed legal action to be exempted from the state-wide investigation into sexual and other abuse.

It is seeking a judicial review and High Court declaration that the church does not assume responsibility for the care of children, young people, or vulnerable people.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse said the church was arguing there were no instances of abuse within it that fall within the scope of the inquiry.

The commission has emailed abuse survivors from the church to say it is treating this as a priority.

It said it acknowledged the news may distress them and they had its support.

Shayne Mechen of survivor group JW for Justice said the move was 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.”

Church spokesperson Tom Pecipajkovski said the Jehovah’s Witnesses had cooperated since 2019 with the commission, “consistently explaining that the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not and never has taken children, young people or vulnerable adults into care”.

“Therefore, 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, said Pecipajkovski in a statement today.

A spokesperson for a survivors network 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,” he said.

The survivor network had earlier 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.