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Published: 21 August 2019
Author: Adele White

Cardinal George Pell loses his appeal - what it means

The Victorian Court of Appeal has this morning decided by a majority of 2-1 to dismiss Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against child sex abuse convictions.

The decision to dismiss the appeal will come as a great relief to the many survivors of abuse committed by those in the Catholic church and other institutions.

The verdict makes it clear that a complainant or survivor can be believed even when the complaint is made against one of the most powerful figures in the country.

A jury has believed him, and now two Appeal court judges have believed him.

History

In March 2019 Cardinal Pell was found guilty of five sexual offences, including penetration of a child, after two choir boys came forward about their experiences with Pell in or around 1996.

On 13 March 2019, the Chief Justice of the County Court, Peter Kidd, imposed a sentence of six years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

The Appeal was made on three primary grounds:

  1. That the jury’s verdict was unreasonable in light of the evidence.
  2. That the Defence was not permitted to play a 19-minute video to the jury which they purport recreated the space where the assaults took place; and,
  3. That Pell was not asked to give his pleading, i.e. guilty or not guilty, in the presence of a jury panel, which is required by certain provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

Appeal decision

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, announced this morning that the appeal was dismissed, meaning that Pell will be returned to jail to continue to serve out the rest of his sentence.

The decision was a 2 to 1 majority with Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Chris Maxwell, both dismissing the appeal. Justice Mark Weinberg disagreed and chose to uphold the appeal.

Will there be a High Court Appeal?

Pell and his legal team will now have 28 days to appeal the decision, by seeking special leave to have the matter heard by the High Court of Australia in Canberra.

Special leave requires a separate application to the High Court, explaining the legal significance of the appeal points.

Special leave is not easily granted, and expert sources indicate that a special leave application is unlikely to succeed.

Response to the decision

Today’s decision has been widely welcomed by survivors of institutional abuse and their families. Chrissie Foster, a prominent advocate for survivors, told ABC News reporters outside the court room that it was a “joyous moment” seeing the decision handed down.

RCT Law has the largest sexual abuse practice in Victoria, having proudly acted for over 2,500 survivors nationally. Today, we stand with survivors in welcoming the Victorian Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold Cardinal Pell’s conviction. 

This is a strong affirmation of the experience not only of the complainant and survivor in the Pell case, but of the stories of survivors of sexual abuse around the country.

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