George Pell: high court to decide today if disgraced cardinal's appeal will go ahead
AAP via The Guardian
March 10, 2020
|Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sexual abuse, will take his appeal to Australia’s highest court on Wednesday.|
Photo by Andy Brownbill
The full bench of Australia’s high court will hear arguments from Cardinal Pell’s legal team on Wednesday in what could be his final bid for freedom
The disgraced Cardinal George Pell’s future could be decided by Australia’s highest court this week, but he won’t be there to see it.
The full bench of the high court will hear his legal team’s final bid for his freedom in Canberra on Wednesday.
The 78-year-old was jailed for six years last year for sexually abusing two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, shortly after being appointed archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
He was convicted by a jury in 2018 of the rape of one 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another. The first boy gave evidence against Pell while the second died in 2014.
Pell maintains his innocence.
Victoria’s court of appeal last year upheld the verdict in a 2-1 ruling.
The high court has not formally granted Pell’s application for appeal, instead referring it “for argument”.
That means after the hearing, which is scheduled to continue on Thursday, the court may refuse the application for special leave, or approve it and either allow or dismiss the appeal.
Pell’s lawyers are arguing the appeal on two grounds.
First, they say the court of appeal majority – the chief justice Ann Ferguson and president Chris Maxwell – made an error in finding Pell was required to prove the offending was “impossible” in order to raise reasonable doubt against the surviving boy’s evidence. (The third judge, Mark Weinberg, found in favour of Pell’s appeal.)
Second, they argue the majority found there was a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any opportunity for Pell to have offended, so they made an error in concluding the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable.
They want Pell’s convictions on five charges to be quashed, which would mean he is released from prison immediately.
Last month it was revealed the high court had also raised legal questions over the use of video evidence in Pell’s previous appeal, rather than relying on written transcripts alone.
Victoria’s three most senior court of appeal judges watched the recorded evidence of 12 witnesses, including the complainant, visited St Patrick’s Cathedral and examined robes.
While Pell has been in court for all his hearings so far, he will remain in Barwon prison, near Geelong, this week.
The proceedings also will not be live-streamed like his previous appeal was, meaning he’ll have to rely on information being fed back through his lawyers.
Viv Waller, who represents the surviving choirboy, said he understood appeals were part of the checks and balances within the criminal justice system.
“Both my client and I are deeply respectful of that process,” she said in November.
Lisa Flynn, who represents the father of the boy who died, says he’s hopeful the high court will uphold Pell’s convictions.
“This has been a very drawn-out process for him,” she said, adding that his faith in the legal system will be lost if Pell is freed.