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.
The following is the statement released by Witness J via his lawyer that was noted in the blog:
I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome.
I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred.
I understand that the High Court is saying that the prosecution did not make out the case to the required standards of proof.
There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeal process is one of them. I respect that.
It is difficult in child sexual abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt.
It is a very high standard to meet — a heavy burden.
I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.
No-one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process.
This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.
That’s why it remains important that everyone who can report to the police does so.
I would hate to think that one outcome of this case is that people are discouraged from reporting to the police.
I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise the truth when they hear it.
They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that.
I would like to thank the police and the Office of Public Prosecutions for their work. I have felt well supported through this journey.
My journey has been long and I am relieved it is over. I have my ups and downs. The darkness is never far away.
Despite the stress of the legal process and public controversy I have tried hard to keep myself together. I am OK. I hope that everyone who has followed this case is OK.
I thank the media for respecting my privacy and for continuing to protect my identity. This has allowed me to stay on track with my recovery and wellbeing.
This case does not define me. I am a man who came forward for my friend who, sadly, is no longer with us.
I am a man doing my best to be a loving dad, partner, son, brother and friend.
I am doing my best to find and hold joy in my life and to provide a safe and loving home for my family.
The Pell verdict has been really hard – been holding a few hands this week… but liked your call for respectful communications
Totally agree that your piece about George Pell was very respectful and well put