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The final act in the George Pell child sex abuse saga

Updated reports will be issued from Eternity as the High Court meets.

Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Church’s most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse, is seeking a hearing in the High Court of Australia, which is his last chance to overturn his conviction.

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What has the high court been asked to do? Pell’s team has asked the court for special leave to appeal the guilty verdict rendered by a jury before Judge Peter Kidd of the County Court of the State of Victoria in December 2018. In an earlier trial, the jury did not achieve a verdict. The guilty verdicts were upheld by the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria in August 2019. In the first instance the High Court has to decide whether it will give Pell leave to appeal. If the High Court does grant leave, it may hold a hearing to re-examine the earlier court cases. If the court rejects tPell’s lawyers application, the Pell verdicts stand.

If the High Court grants leave to appeal what is the main issue? Pell’s defenders say the jury made a mistake, that evidence that it would have been too difficult for Pell to commit the sexual abuse raised a reasonable doubt. They say the Court of Appeal appeals made a mistake in concluding the the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable.

For what crimes was Cardinal Pell found Guilty? Pell was found guilty of five charges of historical child sex abuse.
These include four instances of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child under 16 and one instance of sexual penetration of a child under 16. These alleged crimes  occurred in 1996 in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne after a Sunday mass. One instance of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child under 16 occured two months after the first incidents, also in the cathedral.

Where is Cardinal Pell? Cardinal Pell is not at court but remains at Barwon Prison, a  high risk and maximum security prison for males near Geelong, Victoria.

Predictions?

David Marr in The Guardian “Pell’s accuser was undoubtedly convincing. We will never know everything he had to say about events at St Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996 and early 1997 – he gave all his evidence in camera – but we do know that after convincing the police and prosecution authorities in Victoria, he convinced a jury and then two out of three judges of the court of appeal that Pell raped him.

“Pell’s lawyers disagree, of course, but acknowledge how compelling the unknown young man’s evidence has been. Indeed, it’s the lynchpin of their case. Pell’s counsel, Bret Walker SC, argues the jury and the court of appeal were so swept away by the cardinal’s accuser – by his testimony and his demeanour in the witness box – that they downplayed the evidence in Pell’s favour.”

La Trobe University law professor Patrick Keyzer in the Nine papers “Even though this case is about a very important person and a notoriously significant decision, it is nevertheless still a case about a jury verdict of guilt where a court of appeal has found no legal reason for questioning that verdict,’’ Professor Keyzer told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The Chief Judge of the County Court heard the criminal trial and it was for the jury to determine whether Pell was guilty. The jury performed its role.

“A majority of the Court of Appeal very carefully went through the trial judgment, found no errors of law and concluded the verdict was open to the jury on the facts.”

 

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