April 2, 2020
By John Ferguson
The High Court will hand down its judgment on George Pell’s appeal next Tuesday in what will be his last chance of freedom before having to serve a minimum term of three years and eight months.
The court announced on Thursday the judgment would be delivered in Brisbane, with several scenarios possible including that he walks free from Victoria’s Barwon Prison soon after 10am.
The High Court tweeted its intention to deliver the judgment in arguably the most contentious criminal matter in Australia since Lindy Chamberlain was convicted in 1982 of killing her daughter, Azaria, at Uluru.
Pell, 78, has not spoken publicly since he was charged in 2017 with sexually assaulting two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.
The charges have been stridently contested by the cardinal’s Rolls-Royce legal team, which has included two of Australia’s most respected barristers — Bret Walker SC and Robert Richter QC.
There are several options that could flow from the judgment, including potential early release, or even being referred back to the Victorian Court of Appeal.
However, the court has not yet declared whether it has even accepted the appeal, argument for which was heard last month before the full bench.
Pell was convicted in 2019 of five sex abuse charges against the two 13-year-old choirboys, leading to a six-year jail term.
Pell has maintained his innocence, saying he did not abuse the children in St Patrick’s Cathedral, and is said to have been shocked that the matters progressed past the County Court trials in Melbourne.
Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC had a torrid time in the High Court, shifting the time frame for when the offending could have occurred at the cathedral in 1996.
The original narrative was that it occurred in a window of five to six months, but there has been extensive evidence before the court suggesting this was both impossible and improbable.
The prosecution relied heavily in the County Court and Court of Appeal on the surviving choirboy’s evidence, arguing that he was compelling and a witness of truth. The second choirboy died of a drug overdose several years ago and had denied ever being sexually assaulted.
Pell did not give evidence at trial, instead relying on a video-recorded police interview in Italy before he was charged.
The full bench was asked last month to acquit Pell, 78, of five charges of molesting the two 13-year-olds in 1996 and 1997 while archbishop of Melbourne. Experts have predicted a possible acquittal as Mr Walker effectively asked the full bench to free his client.
Pell is being kept in Barwon Prison, having been transferred from Melbourne’s assessment prison, where he was held in solitary confinement before being shifted amid security concerns.
Unless cleared by the High Court, he will serve a minimum of three years and eight months.
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