Australian High Court to deliver final appeal judgment in the Cardinal Pell appeal on 7 April 2020

On 12 March the High Court in Australia deferred ruling on an appeal to overturn the conviction of former Vatican treasurer George Pell for sexually assaulting two teenage choirboys in the 1990s for which he was sentenced to a six year jail term.

After two days of legal arguments, the High Court of Australia said it was still considering whether to allow the appeal.

If the court does agree to consider the appeal, the seven-member panel of justices will then move straight into deciding whether to acquit Pell or uphold his conviction, a process that will not require another public hearing. The High Court could also decide to send the case back to a lower court for a retrial.

High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said, after hearing arguments from Pell’s lawyer and the Crown prosecutor that “The court reserves its decision on this matter”. The Chief Justice did not give a timeframe for the court’s decisions.

Normally it takes between three to six months for a decision in cases where judgment had been reserved by the High Court.

Pell’s lawyer pressed the High Court to quash the conviction rather than order a retrial, saying it was “the power and duty of this court”.

Pell’s defence team have at all times argued that he  would not have had the time or opportunity to molest the boys in the sacristy, which would have been a “hive of activity” after Mass.

Judges pressed the prosecutor on many of her arguments, including when she suggested the time it would have taken Pell to abuse the boys was “not precise” or “clockwork”, despite lower courts previously hearing the offending took place in a five-to-six minute period.

The case relied solely on the testimony of Pell’s surviving victim, as the other died of a drug overdose in 2014 and is not known to have spoken of the abuse.

The criminal trial involving Pell has proved highly divisive in Australia, attracting protesters and supporters on Thursday to the High Court in Canberra, where they carried rival signs that read “Criminal Pell: pedophile icon” and “We love you, Cardinal George Pell and genuine victims.”

The High Court of Australia has now confirmed that it would deliver its judgment at 10am on Tuesday 7 April.

We will in due course cover the outcome of the appeal hearing on the Blog.


Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM

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