Four days ago, Cardinal Pell’s appeal was dismissed 2-1 by Court of Appeal judges Anne Ferguson, Chris Maxwell and Mark Weinberg. In the Australian legal system, the last option of appeal is through the High Court of Australia. Today, it was announced that George Pell would take his case to the High Court.
During his last appeal, the opinion of the one dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, has provided Pell’s legal team with reasonable grounds to believe his convictions can be overturned. However, it is not guaranteed that Pell will even have the chance to appeal in the High Court. He must apply for special leave to appeal to the High Court, which will be followed by a short hearing to determine his application. In 2017, The High Court received 495 special leave applications but only heard 56 appeals. This demonstrates that there is a high probability that the Court will not even hear Pell’s appeal.
A primary concern is the welfare of the victim and the victim’s families. The short hearing to determine Pell’s application will likely only be heard towards the end of this year, and then if Pell is granted leave, it is likely to be a further four to six months before his appeal is heard. This means that it may be another year before the case can finally be put to rest and another year of uncertainty for the victim and his family. The Australian legal system is heavily delayed, and this case highlights how Australia needs to improve the speed of its legal proceedings. The consistent uncertainty prevalent within the victim, victims’ families and other victims of child sexual abuse creates further pain and doesn’t allow people to move on. I pray that this case can be settled quickly to limit further suffering upon the victims.
Statistically, Pell’s special leave application is unlikely to be approved by the High Court, but due to the high public interest of the case, anything could happen. This is the last chance for Cardinal Pell. If this appeal is unsuccessful, there must be a stronger response from key institutions. The Catholic church must acknowledge the decisions and respect them. There is no ‘what if’. There is no ‘well maybe he is innocent’.
If Pell is unsuccessful, he is guilty, and the response must be appropriate.