Cardinal George Pell Committal Hearing to Be Held behind Closed Doors
By Adam Cooper
December 12, 2017
The first half of the hearing that determines whether Cardinal George Pell will stand trial on historical sex offences will be closed to the public, when his alleged victims give evidence over a period of up to 10 days.
Prosecutors have booked a remote witness facility – a video link that allows complainants alleging sexual abuse to give evidence from a location outside the court room – for the first two weeks of Cardinal Pell's committal hearing, Melbourne Magistrates Court heard on Tuesday.
The committal hearing, which will determine whether Cardinal Pell stands trial, is due to start on March 5 and run for four weeks.
Cardinal Pell, 76, faces charges of historical sexual offences involving multiple complainants. Details of the charges are yet to be revealed.
|George Pell leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in October. Photo: Joe Armao|
He has repeatedly denied the alleged offending.
Prosecutor Fran Dalziel told magistrate Belinda Wallington on Tuesday it was expected the complainants would be the first people to give evidence at the committal hearing, and that the remote witness facility had been booked for the first two weeks of the hearing for when they were cross-examined by Cardinal Pell's lawyers.
Having complainants give evidence from an outside location and via video link is standard practice in Victorian court rooms for contested hearings involving sexual assault allegations.
When a complainant gives evidence, the court room is closed to everyone except the magistrate and their clerk, the accused, lawyers on both sides and the investigating police officer, to ensure privacy.
Ms Dalziel said she would send a list of the witness order to defence lawyers before the committal hearing began.
The cardinal's lawyers have sought documents from Victoria Police, the ABC and its journalist, Louise Milligan, whose book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell was published before he was charged.
Melbourne University Press withdrew the book from Victorian stores when Cardinal Pell was charged in June.
His lawyers have also sought documents from Broken Rites, the non-profit organisation that researches sex abuse cases within the Catholic Church and advocates for victims.
The court was not told which documents defence lawyers had sought.
Defence counsel Ruth Shann said her team had had "fruitful discussions" with the ABC and Ms Milligan and expected to receive the papers in coming days.
Haroon Hassan, representing the ABC, confirmed the documents would be passed on, but in keeping with the broadcaster's obligations under journalistic privilege.
Broken Rites has also passed on the documents asked of it.
But Ruth Champion, for Victoria Police, said her client could object to releasing some documents if the cardinal's lawyers maintained their request.
Ms Champion said police had found some of the papers requested, but had encountered difficulties finding others.
The matter could return to court next week.
Cardinal Pell was not in court on Tuesday. At his first high-profile court appearance in July, defence counsel Robert Richter, QC, told the court his client would plead not guilty.
Cardinal Pell is only required to formally enter a plea if committed to trial. He has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer to be in Australia to fight the charges.
Up to 50 witnesses could be called during the committal. Some of them will be former choirboys, the court was told in October.