On 5 June 2019 at the Victoria State Court of Appeal, Cardinal Pell’s legal team launched an application for leave to appeal his conviction on one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16 in a Melbourne cathedral more than 20 years ago. The Court is also hearing the appeal against the conviction at the same time.
Cardinal Pell was sentenced to six years in prison, which he is currently serving in a Melbourne prison and it is reported that he is being held in special protective custody because due to the nature of his convictions he is regarded as being at higher risk of harm from other prisoners.
Cardinal Pell attended the hearing. He has at all times said he is innocent of the charges brought against him and has maintained that the unanimous verdict of the jury that convicted him is unreasonable.
The principal grounds of appeal are as follows:-
- The verdict is “unreasonable” as it relies too heavily on the evidence of the surviving victim. (The other victim died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31, apparently without making any accusation of abuse against Cardinal Pell)
- More than 20 prosecution witnesses who had an official role in the Sunday Mass in 1996, after which the then-Archbishop Pell molested the boys in a rear room over five or six minutes, gave evidence that the offences did not or could not have occurred. The submission being made here is that no matter what weight is given to the complaint’s evidence it was not open to the jury to accept his evidence as meeting the threshold of being “beyond a reasonable doubt”
- That Cardinal Pell was prevented from entering his pleas before a jury, which is in breach of court process.
If the appeal judges conclude that the verdict is unsafe on the grounds set out at paragraphs 1 and 2 above then Cardinal Pell would by acquitted and would not have to be retried. However, if they conclude the verdict is unsafe on the ground set out at paragraph 3 he could be retried.
The decisions to be made now lies with three of Australia’s most senior appeals judges: Chief Justice of Victoria’s Supreme Court, Anne Ferguson, President of the Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell and Mark Weinberg. Only two of the three need to agree on the ruling and a written judgment detailing their decision is expected in the coming weeks.
We will keep you advised of developments.
Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM