Cardinal Pell’s appeal fails as convictions for child sex abuse are upheld

The Victoria Court of Appeal yesterday rejected the appeal by Cardinal Pell against his convictions for sexual abuse against two boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell was sentenced to six years in prison in March 2019 on foot of these convictions. He has and continues to maintain his innocence.

Readers of the Abuse & Neglect News Blog will be aware that in our blog of 18/06/2019 we covered the basis of this appeal. Please see the link to that blog here.

The main basis of the appeal argued on behalf of Pell was that the convictions were “unreasonable” because there was insufficient evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lawyers for Pell argued that the jury had relied too heavily on the “uncorroborated evidence” of the sole surviving victim.

The appeal was dismissed 2-1 by a panel of three judges.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson who delivered a summary of the majority judgment upholding the verdict of the jury said that “Justice [Chris] Maxwell and I accepted the prosecution’s submission that the complainant was a compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth,” and went on to say that neither she nor Mr Justice Maxwell experienced any doubt about the verdict delivered by the jury.

However, Mr Justice Weinberg in a dissenting judgment upheld the appeal on this ground i.e. of an unreasonable verdict by the jury. He found that there were discrepancies in the evidence given by the surviving victim and that his evidence “…displayed inadequacies and otherwise lacked a probity of value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.”

The appeal taken by Pell was also based on the grounds that there had been errors during the trial; these grounds of appeal were dismissed by all three judges.

All three appeal judges dismissed the appeal on the ground that Pell should have been arraigned in front of a jury and agreed the ruling of the County Court not to admit the defence’s animation, which sought to show the movement of all people present in the Cathedral in 1996. This had also been the subject of appeal by Pell’s lawyers.

Dr Vivian Waller, the lawyer representing Pell’s surviving victim, said her client wanted to get on with his life and was “grateful for a legal system that everyone can believe in.”

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, also commented on the judgment and said that “My sympathies are with the victims of child sexual abuse. Not just on this day, but on every single day.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said it accepted the court’s decision, but added that it would “be distressing to many people.”

Pell’s lawyers have advised that they would “thoroughly examine” the judgment (which is over 300 pages long).

It is possible that Pell may make one final appeal to the High Court of Australia although there is no guarantee that the High Court will agree to hear the case.

In delivering her summary of the judgment Chief Justice Ferguson said that this case “…has divided the community” and with a further appeal still possible, there can be little doubt that such divisions are not likely to heal any time soon.

Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM

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