Monday, February 20, 2012

A David and Goliath Story in Australia

What do you do when laws that are designed to protect children aren't enforced? This situation came up in Victoria, Australia when the Watchtower Society (also known as Jehovah's Witnesses) became the only major religious group to refuse to comply with the Working With Children Act. This act required that ministers have a background check before they work with children. This seems a reasonable precaution, especially for a group that has faced many scandals about alleged coverups of child abuse within their religion.

For whatever reason, they refused to comply with this law for years. Strangely, the police also refused to do anything about enforcing this law.

Fortunately, Australia has legal provisions that allow citizens to act as private prosecutors in cases like this. (I don't understand how exactly this works.) This is what a Mr. Steven Unthank did when he took on the Watchtower Society and related corporations.

I have been watching this case with interest as it seems like a true David verses Goliath type showdown. The Watchtower Society has a vast army of lawyers who work for free and have ample experience defending the actions of their client. Steven Unthank, on the other hand, is just a private citizen without legal experience. Remember that this is not a lawsuit, but an actual prosecution for violations of the law, something that would normally be handled by the government.

Things seemed to be going pretty well with several hearings where the charges remained on the books. It looked like the government might take the case and relieve Mr. Unthank of his burden.

Today I learned that that Mr. Unthank received an email from the Director of Public Prosecutions where he indicated he was interested in taking over the cases "for the purpose of discontinuing them.” He even made the shocking suggestion that these prosecution were "not in the public interest."

Well, there a lot of people who feel that protecting children is in the public interest. I don't know how anyone can suggest otherwise. I realize it can be difficult to prosecute the leaders of a religious organisation, but it is cases like this that must be prosecuted to prevent a powerful organization from trampling on the rights of helpless children in order to seve their own interests.

I have emailed the Director of Public Prosecutions to express my disappointment and will be watching this case closely. If you would like more information, you can visit this discussion or #protectingchildrenisinthepublicinterest on Twitter.

No comments: