Court of Appeal dismisses Jehovah's Witnesses' challenge against abuse inquiry

The court confirmed that the inquiry commission acted within its authority

Court of Appeal dismisses Jehovah's Witnesses' challenge against abuse inquiry

The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Ltd, an Australian company that oversees Jehovah’s Witness congregations in the region.

The appeal challenged a High Court decision that dismissed the group's judicial review claims against the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions.

The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that the commission exceeded its authority by investigating the group before the terms of reference were amended in September 2023. They also contended that the amendment targeted them unfairly and breached their rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. However, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court's stance, agreeing that the commission acted within its powers.

The Court of Appeal noted the commission’s role in investigating historical abuses, stating that its function is to inquire and report on matters of public importance, not to determine guilt or assign blame. The court carefully analysed the terms of reference, which define the scope of the inquiry, underscoring the complex nature of defining care responsibilities within faith-based settings.

Despite the amendments to the terms of reference that expanded the commission's scope, the Court of Appeal found that these changes were made lawfully and did not infringe on the rights of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court rejected arguments that the amendment was enacted improperly or specifically targeted the group to undermine their judicial review proceedings.

The court emphasised that judicial oversight ensures that inquiry commissions operate within their legal boundaries, protecting public interests and maintaining accountability. The decision upholds the integrity of judicial review processes and the proper conduct of inquiry commissions in New Zealand.

This resolution comes ahead of the commission’s revised reporting deadline, now set for June 26. The original schedule was extended to allow thorough investigation and consideration of the complex issues involved. The court underscored the balance between respecting religious entities' rights and addressing significant public concerns about historical abuses in care settings.

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