A man door-knocks for the Jehovah's Witness church.
A man door-knocks for the Jehovah's Witness church. Paul Braven

Jehovah's Witness' edict to elders concerns abuse lawyer

AN EXPERIENCED abuse lawyer has expressed concern over an edict from the Australian branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses ordering elders to destroy notes dealing with internal disciplinary hearings.

The Chronicle, which in July revealed a former Toowoomba man was suing the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia for $2.4 million for allegedly covering up the abuse he suffered as a child, has obtained an internal document sent to church elders across the country that related to "congregation records".

The letter, sent on August 28 by the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses Australia, warned elders in general to be careful around "personal note-taking" during judicial committee hearings.

Under the rules of the church, internal judicial committees are formed when a person is accused of "serious sin", and act as prosecutor, judge and jury.

Observers are not allowed into the sessions.

Without referring to any specific case, the letter reminded elders involved in judicial hearings that note-taking is "generally not required", and to destroy any personal notes.

"Elders are encouraged to allow these ones to pour out their heart and not to be offended by any 'wild talk' on their part," the letter read.

"However, if this 'wild talk' is recorded in detail, it may not be accurately assessed when reviewed out of context.

"In any case, if it is determined that some brief personal notes need to be taken during a hearing, they should be destroyed once a summation of the hearing has been prepared."

Prime Minister apologises to sex abuse victims: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a national apology to the thousands of victims of child sexual abuse. Credit: Parliament of Australia via Storyful
Prime Minister apologises to sex abuse victims: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a national apology to the thousands of victims of child sexual abuse. Credit: Parliament of Australia via Storyful

According to the church, "wild talk" refers to anything said by someone which they might later regret.

Lawyers representing the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia said it declined to comment, citing the legal dispute currently in court.

Shine Lawyers' Lisa Flynn, who is representing the man against the organisation in the Supreme Court of Toowoomba, expressed concern over the document.

"Just when we think the practices of the Jehovah's Witness church couldn't get any more damaging, we find out elders have been ordered to destroy confidential records, including notes investigating child sexual abuse," she said.

"In destroying documents, the Jehovah's Witness church is entering very dangerous territory."

Lisa Flynn, National Child Abuse Manager, Shine Lawyers.
Lisa Flynn, National Child Abuse Manager, Shine Lawyers. Shine Lawyers

Ms Flynn's client is suing the church for its alleged failure to stop or prevent the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father in the 1980s and 1990s.

The lawsuit alleges the ongoing abuse left the man with severe psychological scars and hypo-arousal disorder, leading to drug and alcohol abuse, social isolation, impaired relationships and struggles with employment.

"Our client has suffered his entire life having been abused by his father as a child, which Jehovah's Witness elders knew about and did nothing to stop," Ms Flynn said.

"He has finally found the courage to speak up and take legal action in a bid to rebuild his life."

The man, known only as David, said the document was infuriating to read.

"Victims like me deserve to be acknowledged, it's the least that can happen given my life has been stolen," he told The Chronicle.

"Jehovah's Witness elders knew my father was sexually abusing me as a young boy and they chose to cover it up and make me suffer for the rest of my life."

In its defence, the organisation refuted or did not admit to a majority of the claims alleged, arguing it was not culpable for any damages because it was not "responsible for 'co-ordinating' all of the activities in those congregations".

The defendant also said the elder who was alleged to have been told about the abuse denied he was aware of it.

The matter is still before the Supreme Court.