George Pell to Learn Outcome of Appeal for Child Sex Abuse Conviction

By Benjamin Ansell
August 20, 2019

This morning the world's most senior Catholic to be found guilty of historic child sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell, will find out whether his appeal has been successful.

Pell, 78, has spent the past five months in the Melbourne Assessment Prison after he was sentenced in March to a maximum of six years in prison for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in 1996.

Watch the appeal judgement live on or 9News Melbourne from 9.30am AEST.

Pell was found guilty in December of sexually assaulting the boys at St Patrick's Cathedral in the priest's sacristy after Sunday mass.

He was convicted on four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under the age of 16.

Pell's appeal was heard in June before a full bench of the Supreme Court, made up of Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, the President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg.

Pell's conviction was appealed on three grounds by high-profile barrister Bret Walker SC, with the defence relying most heavily on the argument that the jury was "unreasonable" in reaching its verdict.

From left: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria Justice Anne Ferguson, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg. (Supreme Court of Victoria)

If the court finds the jury's decision was incorrect:

Pell's appeal will hinge on the argument the jury was unreasonable in its guilty verdict because there was insufficient evidence for the jury to have been satisfied of Pell's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

If the judges agree the jury was unreasonable in its decision, Pell's conviction will be quashed and the cardinal would be released from custody immediately.

While this is the strongest part of the appeal, it is also a very hard bar to clear, with the judges needing to determine that the jury must have had a reasonable doubt about Pell's guilt.

Having a suspicion they may have harboured doubt is not enough.

There would still be an avenue for the prosecution to appeal the decision in the High Court.

If the Court of Appeal find procedural errors were made during the trial:

The disgraced cardinal alleges two errors were made during the trial.

The first claim is that he was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel, because the jury panel had to be split into different rooms due to the potential jurors pool being so large.

If the judges were to find Pell should have been arraigned in the physical presence of the jurors, it could lead to a retrial.

The other ground for appeal relies on the appellate judges finding that the trial judge, County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd, incorrectly prevented the defence from showing a video animation during its closing address. The animation showed dots moving around a diagram of the layout of St Patrick's Cathedral to describe human activity during and after a solemn mass.

Judge Kidd did not allow the video to be played during the closing address as he ruled it as being new evidence, which cannot be introduced during closing addresses.

A retrial could be ordered if the bench finds the animation should have been played.

If Pell's appeal is dismissed entirely:

In the case that Justices Ferguson, Maxwell and Weinberg are not convinced by any of these arguments and maintain the conviction, the cardinal will be taken back to prison to see out his jail term.

While Pell is not planning to appeal against the length of his sentence, his team has not exhausted all avenues to appeal against his convictions.

Pell could challenge the Victorian Court of Appeal's judgement in the High Court the highest level of the Australian judicial system.








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