Two Witness Rule ‘Loophole’ Raises Jehovah’s Witness Child Abuse Concerns

Expert Lawyers Say Any Incidents Must Be Reported To Authorities


Specialist abuse lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have joined campaigners in urging the Government to close a loophole which potentially allows child abuse criminals to evade justice and calling for guidelines that ensure all incidents are reported to the authorities.

The Jehovah's Witness community currently implements a two-witness rule which means that they deal with allegations of sins internally and only investigate themselves if the claim is corroborated by a second testimony.

Concerns over the possibility of victims suffering in silence, without anyone to support their claims, has prompted campaigners to hand a letter to Downing Street calling for action. The Government has been asked to introduce mandatory reporting to police whenever an allegation of child sex abuse is made within the faith group.

This comes only a few months after a High Court’s ruling that Jehovah’s Witness elders should be liable for failing to protect a woman from abuse by a ministerial servant. The woman, now in her 20s, was awarded damages of £275,000 in relation to abuse carried out between 1989 and 1994. The case is thought to be the first against the religious movement.

Reacting to the news, lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who act for victims of abuse and help them gain access to specialist support have questioned whether the two witness rule is fit for purpose when it comes to such serious crimes.

Expert Opinion
“All religions are guided by strong beliefs that are important to their followers’ faith and sense of belonging. The Jehovah’s Witness faith clearly reject any form of child abuse, but sadly such crimes do take place in all areas of society and must be dealt with appropriately.

“The two witness rule may be still be appropriate in certain instances but when it comes to a serious criminal offence like child abuse it seems to be too open to exploitation. With victims of child abuse often abused on their own it raises questions as to whether incidents could go unreported.

“Unfortunately we regularly see the physical and psychological impact abuse has on victims. It is therefore vital that any incident is reported to the authorities so the victims get the support they require and the criminals get the punishment they deserve.

“While such abuse is in the public eye arguably more than ever before, it still remains incredibly difficult for victims to come forward and report what they have been through. Any legal loophole that provides even a possibility that a serious crime could go unreported must be looked at by the Government as a matter of urgency.

“Guidelines must be brought in to ensure that if an accusation of child abuse is made within the Jehovah's Witnesses then it is immediately passed on to the relevant authorities to deal with.”
Tracey Storey, Partner