Who’d want to be a witness when it just means more trauma?

Sydney Morning Herald

February 12, 2021

By Declan Fry

“Groomers groom communities, not just children.” This sentiment occurs throughout Witness, veteran investigative journalist Louise Milligan’s follow-up to 2017’s Walkley Award-winning Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell. Working deep within the ninth circle of Dante’s hell, Milligan’s counsel interviewees (almost invariably men) seek to uphold the principle of “beyond reasonable doubt” at any cost – especially if the client is both monied and powerful.

Through her experience as a witness during the Pell trial, Milligan, who won the people’s choice award in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, learns first-hand how the adversarial system of cross-examination – with its indignities and seething manipulations, its brow-beating and haranguing – visits new traumas upon the multiply abused. Yes, multiply: first by their abuser; then by their trial; and finally by the aftermath of the process – perhaps the abuse whose pain lingers longest.

Although she acknowledges that there are counsel ready to engage in cross-examination without eviscerating witnesses, much of the old guard depicted here don’t trouble themselves too much. Among them, Robert Richter QC emerges as one of the more vain, tunnel-visioned, and immoderately foolish – not least in his own words.

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