George Pell has lost his appeal against his convictions in the Victorian Court of Appeal. He will continue to serve his six-year sentence.
He was granted leave to appeal on one ground but, by a 2-1 majority, that appeal was dismissed in the court today. Two of the three appeal court judges found that the evidence in the first trial provided sufficient support for the jury verdict.
Two other grounds about how the earlier trial were raised by his lawyers were rejected by the court.
Cardinal Pell remains eligible for parole, but will have to have served three years and eight months before he can leave jail.
Pell was convicted of five sexual offences alleged to have occurred on two occasions at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, against two choir boys.
He had been found guilty in a County Court of one act of sexual penetration against one child under sixteen, and four acts of indecency against one child under sixteen.
The Court of Appeal watched video of 12 of the 24 witnesses. Many of these witnesses were “opportunity witnesses” on the issue of whether the events could have occurred.
The task of the Appeal Court’s three judges – Justices Anne Ferguson, Chris Maxwell and Mark Weinberg – was to determine whether it was unreasonable for the court to have found Pell to have been guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Justices Ferguson and Maxwell found that it was open for the jury to have found Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt. They also stated that the key witness was a witness of truth, not a liar. The key witness “came across as someone telling the truth” and that, in particular, his reasons for remembering some things and not others had “the ring of truth”.
The court rejected all 13 obstacles in the path of conviction which were put forward by Pell’s lawyers in his appeal.
However, Justice Weinberg disagreed and would have granted appeal, believing that the complainant’s account was embellished.
Pell remains the most senior Catholic figure in the world to be convicted of child sexual abuse.
It is highly likely that Pell’s lawyers will take the appeal to the High Court.
There is no certainty the High Court will accept the appeal. If it does, a majority decision would still be required in order for Pell’s conviction to be overturned.