The fact that it took the over-turning of Cardinal George Pell’s conviction to bounce COVID-19 from the lead story in many news bulletins on Tuesday night says something about the seriousness with which Australians have viewed his case and the strongly held and divided opinions it has elicited.
Without delving into the complex technicalities of the legal processes that have occurred during the initial trial by jury followed by the Appeal Court’s judgement and finally the High Court’s ruling, it’s sufficient to say that the High Court found that there was a “significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”. In other words, the High Court did not, nor was it the job of the High Court to, re-adjudicate the guilt or innocence of Pell. It simply found that there was insufficient evidence for the court to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offences occurred – nothing more than that and nothing less.
As might be expected, there are some who are applauding the High Court’s ruling as a victory for Australia’s justice system, many of whom have changed their tune considerably since noisily leading the criticism of this system when Pell was first convicted and failed in his appeal to have his conviction overturned. On the flip side, there are many who have been devastated by the ruling – not only in respect of what it means in relation to Pell, but more broadly in relation to its potential impact on other child sexual abuse prosecutions and the ways in which the High Court’s ruling may be perceived and understood by those who have experienced child sexual abuse, their loved ones, advocates and supporters.
For these people, the messages conveyed by these Australians are especially important to consider:
- response by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the High Court’s ruling
- response by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to the High Court’s ruling
- this video message posted on Twitter by Julia Gillard, Chair of Beyond Blue, who in her former role as Prime Minister initiated the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and
- perhaps the most poignant of all, this statement released by Witness J via his lawyer.
Whatever opinion you may hold about the High Court’s ruling, be kind and look out for those who may be distressed by this outcome.
Consider again these blogs previously released by PeakCare about the prosecution of Cardinal George Pell and related matters – the relevance of the issues discussed remain:
- The conviction of George Pell – the yet to be realised repercussions, 22nd March 2019
- State vs Church (and maybe the Law), 28th January 2020
What we can be sure about is that this saga is not yet over with civil lawsuits yet to be heard.
Let us know your reactions and thoughts about the High Court’s ruling by entering comments below, anonymously if you prefer.