Victoria, Australia: Report on Oct. 11th hearing involving Steven Unthank
(This report is from an anonymous XJW who attended the hearing.)
I had no plans to turn up to the court hearing as an observer, as in my experience, it can take several hearings and a number of months before any court case gets rolling. This usually involves a transfer to the County Court or the Supreme Court for a trial unless the defendant pleads "guilty."
Everything changed upon learning that the Watchtower Society (WTS) had instructed elders and others in the congregations to comply with the working with children laws and to actually obtain their working with children cards. Getting the WTS to comply with the laws after three years of refusing to comply was quite an achievement for Steven Unthank. With this development who would not want to sit in on the next court hearing and witness the defense tactics the WTS and their legal team launched to get themselves out of the potential crisis they got themselves into.
And launch they did. In a short space of 90 minutes, the WTS completely destroyed the entire fabric and structure of the faith of some 7 million Jehovah's Witnesses for nothing more than self-preservation. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your view, most Jehovah's Witnesses will never find out.
Before compiling this report I took the opportunity to read through Steven Unthank's web site www.jwnews.net for the purpose of clarifying a few case point overviews and I recommend this to others. For anyone interested in court numbers and proof of court hearings, the Daily Court Listings can be found on the Magistrates' Court of Victoria web site for November 8th.
My opinions and observations
The best way to comprehend what is going on, from a courtroom perspective, is that the court hearings at the moment are administrative, which in very simplistic terms means 'the shuffling of paperwork' and 'the jostling for position' along with some short case arguments or presentations to the magistrate.
During the court hearing on October 11 th , the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of Public Prosecutions (referred to as the Crown) indicated to the court that they intend to take over all five cases. As to why they have not done so previously is anyone's guess. In my opinion I would not be surprised if all five cases have been sort of co-prosecuted and case managed by the Crown and by Steven Unthank working together in a de facto relationship, with Steven Unthank acting in the capacity as acting prosecutor and the Crown as legal adviser. Such an arrangement would be advantageous to the overall prosecution of the cases for two very specific reasons:-
1. Steven Unthank would not have a working knowledge of the criminal justice system; and
2. the Crown would not have a working knowledge of the WTS's corporate religious system and its relationship to Jehovah's Witnesses and each of the defendants.
Many of us, including myself, may have greatly underestimated Steven Unthank's ability or understanding of the court process, the structure of the WTS, its relationship with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and what was needed to launch a criminal prosecution. It has been a long running joke about having the "faithful and discreet slave" charged. But consider this. Everything that happens within the WTS and within the Jehovah's Witnesses is attributed to the entity and class of individuals known within the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses as the "faithful and discreet slave."
According to the Watchtower teachings, the authority of the elder arrangement, their governing body, the branch committees, and also the authority of the lawyers within the congregation and organization, comes from the "faithful and discreet slave." If these elders, governing body members, branch committee members, and lawyers made a mistake over the Working with Children laws then the fault may also lie with the person or legal entity that employs their services, be they corporate services, legal services or religious services. For a criminal trial this has to be explored by the prosecution.
The charging of the "faithful and discreet slave" as a religious body now has the ability to publicly expose the quasi-legal religious relationship they have with the WTS and its legal department. The WTS would no doubt never want this to be publicly exposed and therefore must take action to keep this hidden from scrutiny at all costs. It is irrelevant as to whether any observers believe in the "faithful and discreet slave" or not. It is real to Jehovah's Witnesses and is the entire religious heart of their belief structure.
To understand the court arguments we first need to establish whether the "faithful and discreet slave" exists under Victorian law.
"Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?"
What we do know is that the "faithful and discreet slave" (FDS) have been criminally charged and are being prosecuted as "corporate accused." We also know that there are seven charges on their "Charge-Sheet and Summons (Corporate Accused)" in relation to the Working with Children Act 2005. We do not know what the charges are as these have not yet been read out in court. This will happen in time, but until then it is anyone's guess. In all reality the charge wordings are irrelevant.
Under Victorian law a "corporate accused" can legally be an incorporated entity (a registered company), an association, or an unincorporated body. The FDS is not an incorporated entity (a registered company) and is not an association (no articles of association) so therefore the charge sheet or sheets must list it as an "unincorporated body."
According to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, as written in the book "Organized To Do Jehovah's Will" on page 16, the "faithful and discreet slave" are a "body" which Christ uses "to publish information on the fulfillment of Bible prophecies and to give timely direction on the application of Bible principles in daily life." Therefore, the FDS, by their own written admission, are a "body" of individual persons. As they are not incorporated this makes the FDS an unincorporated body similar to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Working with Children Act 2005 says that a person includes "an unincorporated body or association and a partnership." Therefore, the phrase "person" can also legally be applied to an unincorporated body. This then makes the "faithful and discreet slave" a legal entity under Victorian law, a "person" who operates as an unincorporated body.
The Working with Children Act says that "If this Act provides that a person, being an unincorporated body or an association or a partnership, is guilty of an offence, that reference to the person must--(a) in the case of an unincorporated body or association--be read as a reference to each member of the committee of management of the body or association who knew of, or knowingly authorized or permitted, the commission of the offence."
To simplify, the Working with Children laws recognize unincorporated bodies as a legal entity by granting them legal status as a "person" under law. This was legislated so that there were no loopholes in the law that allowed or permitted anyone, or any group of people, religious or otherwise, from not complying with the Working with Children laws. In the event that a criminal offence is committed by the unincorporated body then the offence is deemed to have been committed by each member of the committee of management of the body.
This understanding is important in that it shows that the FDS have been granted legal recognition under Victorian law as a body that does indeed exist as a legal entity. Why is this important?
During the court hearing on October 11, legal counsel for the Watchtower Society, Rachel van Witsen, from Vincent Toole Solicitors (the WTS's in-house law firm located inside Bethel, Australia) made a statement on behalf of the Watchtower Society that:-
"The faithful and discreet slave is not a legal entity."
Vincent Toole Solicitors then went on to present arguments that the "faithful and discreet slave" do not exist as a "person" nor do they exist as an "unincorporated body" and nor do they exist as a "body" of Christians.
Literally Vincent Toole Solicitors were arguing that the "faithful and discreet slave" should be struck off the charge list because they simply do not exist. In one broad sweeping statement the Watchtower Society and their in-house legal team completely destroyed the entire fabric and structure of the faith of some 7 million Jehovah's Witnesses. What next happened goes beyond the wildest imaginings that any Jehovah's Witness could ever believe was possible.
Steven Unthank stood up, looked around the courtroom, and then actually defended the "faithful and discreet slave" and the beliefs and doctrinal teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. No one else came to the defense of the FDS. Steven Unthank, as the current acting prosecutor, was the only person who defended them. Unthank then presented argument that the FDS was real and was that body of Jehovah's Witness Christians that had religious responsibility over the entire Christian congregation.
The Watchtower Society and Vincent Toole Solicitors then presented rebuttal argument that the "faithful and discreet slave" did not exist but were nothing more than a:-
A massive gasp could be heard emanating from the gallery from amongst a group of Jehovah's Witnesses who had attended to watch the hearing. It is worth noting that Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that to deny the "faithful and discreet slave" is to deny the Christ and that those who deny the Christ are the antichrist.
The Watchtower Society and Vincent Toole Solicitors then turned on the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and denied that they existed or operated within Victoria and Australia. The magistrate did not accept this argument and, after seeking approval from Steven Unthank, adjourned all the court hearings for four weeks.
Simply put, the Watchtower Society and Vincent Toole Solicitors denied the existence of the "faithful and discreet slave" and denied the existence of the Christian congregation arrangement. What is also interesting in the entire court case to date is that it was the Watchtower Society and their in-house lawyers that brought theology and religion into the court room.
It is possible that sometime in the future there could be a very serious courtroom hearing in which the whole existence of the "faithful and discreet slave" is argued but not in the way any Jehovah's Witness could imagine. Unless the WTS backs down, or the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses step in and defend their faith, then we could see Steven Unthank actually defending the existence of the FDS and the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses in open public court while the WTS and their lawyers, with the backing of the Governing Body, deny the existence of the FDS and maybe even the Christian congregation. And if such a courtroom drama ever unfolds, then at any given time Steven Unthank could back down and the FDS become no more than a never existing group of imaginary Christians who are really nothing more than a convenient "theological arrangement" whom Jehovah's Witnesses mistakenly believe exist and are their spiritual leaders who care about them.
The only party not represented was the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. This is logical from a self-preserving religious point of view, as to defend the charges would be to acknowledge each single charge as being a "valid charge of improper conduct." This would then disqualify each member from being an elder until the case was sorted out.
This failure on the part of the Governing Body to appear or to be represented was noticed by the Magistrate who took the unusual step of suggesting and recommending to Steven Unthank that criminal charges be brought against every single member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses as opposed to the unincorporated body known as the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. The only thing that may actually prevent this from really happening is that Steven Unthank lacks the financial resources. Good thing the Crown stated in court its intention to take over the prosecution.