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Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation vicariously liable

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In The Trustees of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v BXB 

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, the Court of Appeal has offered further guidance on vicarious liability following Supreme Court decisions last year in VM Morrison Supermarkets PLC v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 12 and Barclays Bank v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 13.

As set out in these posts by 

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, the ‘law of vicarious liability is on the move’ (in the words of Lord Phillips). This case, however, illustrates certain settled principles emerging. In this case, the decision that Barry Congregation was vicariously liable for the rape of Mrs B by Mark Sewell, an elder of the Congregation, in 1990, was upheld.

Mark Sewell was convicted of the rape (amongst other offences) of Mrs B in 2014. Mrs B suffered episodes of depression and post-traumatic disorder. She brought a claim against, amongst others, the Trustees of the Barry Congregation for the injuries suffered as a result of the rape claiming they were vicariously liable. There was a second limb to the claim related to the investigation and ‘judicial process’ undertaken by the congregation when Mrs B reported the rape to elders in 1991. However, because the High Court found that the Barry Congregation was vicariously liable, the second limb was not considered.

Taking these features of the relationship together, the following conclusions can be drawn:

(a) The fact that Mark Sewell held a position in the Congregation (initially, ministerial servant) was an important part of the reason why Mr and Mrs B started to associate with Mark and Mary Sewell.

(b) But for Mark Sewell’s and Tony Sewell’s position as elders, Mr and Mrs B would probably not have remained friends with Mark Sewell by the time of the rape. There was, therefore, the ‘strong causative link’ referred to by Lord Phillips in the Catholic Child Welfare Society case at [86].

(c) The Defendants created or significantly enhanced the risk that Mark Sewell would sexually abuse Mrs B by creating the conditions in which the two might be alone together through (i) Tony Sewell’s implied instruction that she continue to act as his confidante (an instruction which carried the authority conferred by the Defendants because of his position as an elder) and (ii) investing Mark Sewell with the authority of an elder, thereby making it less likely that Mrs B (or others) would question his motives and emboldening him to think that he could act as he wished with little fear of adverse consequences.

(d) The rape took place in circumstances closely connected to the carrying out by Mark Sewell and Mrs B of religious duties at a venue – Mark Sewell’s home – which was ‘approved’ by the elders of the Barry Congregation.

(e) One of the reasons for the rape was Mark Sewell’s belief that an act of adultery was necessary to provide scriptural grounds for him to divorce Mary. His mindset, in which he appears to have equiparated rape and adultery, was closely bound up with his position as an elder.”

But still JWs say it isn't the Elders or MS that commit these crimes. 


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I don't know why but that reminded me of an elder, by his late 40's he had 2 deceased wives. Six months after his second wife's passing he married an 18 year old girl.

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