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Published: 08 March 2019
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

Pell appeal: How does the appeal process work?

Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of child sexual abuse. Held at Melbourne Assessment Prison, Pell has now been incarcerated for over a week. He has sought leave to appeal and the court has set a date of 7-8 June to hear the application and should that application be successful, the appeal itself.

But what is an appeal and how would it work?


There has naturally been a lot of public comment about the verdict against Pell on both sides of the spectrum. Some survivors have breathed a sigh of relief and felt vindicated by the verdict. On the other hand, many of Pell’s supporters are so confident he will be successful on appeal that they refuse to accept the jury’s determination. But it is vital we remember there has been a determination. Let there be no confusion, as it stands today Pell is guilty of child sexual abuse, as determined by a jury of his peers. He is not the first convicted to protest his innocence and lodge appeals and no doubt, he won’t be the last.

As the discussion continues there is understandably questions arising within the general public as to what an appeal actually is.

What is an appeal and how does the appeal process work?

A person who is convicted of a criminal offence has the right to seek leave to appeal against the conviction to the Court of Appeal. To seek leave essentially means to seek the courts' permission to appeal the conviction. If the leave is granted the appeal is then heard by the Court.

There are three grounds upon which you can appeal;

  1. That the verdict of the jury is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence; or 
  2. That there has been a substantial miscarriage of justice as a result of an error or irregularity in the trial; or 
  3. There has been a miscarriage of justice.

It is important to note that an appeal is not another trial. It is not a review of the evidence in its entirety to make a finding. An appeal is made on a point of law and that point of law is reviewed.

It has been reported that Pell is lodging his appeal arguing it was not open to the jury to find him guilty beyond all reasonable doubt (ground 1). He also argues there was a miscarriage of justice as he was not allowed the opportunity to enter his plea of not guilty in front of the jury and finally that his defence was not allowed to enter new evidence during their closing address of a video (ground 3).

While the leave to appeal is set to be heard in June, it may take the courts several weeks to hand down their decision. The Court of Appeal may uphold the conviction or order a re-trial or order that the decision be quashed and Cardinal Pell be released.

No doubt many will be waiting with bated breath as the Court of Appeal considers whether Pell’s fate should be altered.

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