AO Advocates Senior Associate Kathleen Hallisey was featured as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4 'Sunday', discussing a coverup of child sexual abuse allegations within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation. The discussion starts at the 33:30 mark—the last chapter of the programme.
In 2015 New Zealand High Court judge Dame Lowell Goddard QC, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, instructed 18 religious organisations in the UK 'to preserve any documents or notes that could assist her investigation', presenter William Crawley explained. Lawyers and survivors of abuse, including our own clients, claim that the Jehovah's Witnesses have ordered the destruction of such documents. These include notes by elders' and judicial committees—congregational courts where serious disciplinary matters including child abuse allegations are investigated. Kathleen Hallisey, who is representing a victim of child sexual abuse in the UK's first High Court case against the Jehovah's Witnesses, elaborated that the internal directives instructing congregations to destroy these types of documents 'come from the US where the headquarters are located', including 'an audit and a destruction of various types of documents that would have been retained by the elders in the congregation'.
Hallisey believes that the documents being destroyed pursuant to the organisation's order 'are highly relevant to the Goddard inquiry, and are in fact documents that should not have been destroyed. My fear is that it’s too late'.
The Jehovah's Witnesses claim that their actions represent due diligence under the Data Protection Act; however, the DPA rarely covers information delivered on paper, and an order to retain documents by a statutory inquiry should take precedent. Failure to comply with such an order is a criminal offense. While a statement from the Jehovah's Witnesses for the 'Sunday' programme claims they are 'committed to doing all [they] can to prevent child abuse and to provide spiritual comfort to any who have suffered from this terrible sin and crime', it offers no comment on the issue of destroying or retaining documents that the Goddard Inquiry might use.