The High Court of Australia has quashed Cardinal George Pell’s convictions, unanimously allowing his appeal. This means that George Pell will be released from Barwon prison today, and no further legal action can be bought against him regarding these accusations.
The High Court found that the jury ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt concerning each of the offences for which he was convicted, thus resulting in the unanimous decision.
In December 2018, George Pell was convicted of one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years and 4 charges of committing an act of indecency with or in the presence of a child under the age of 16.
Then, in August 2019, Pell sought leave to appeal against his convictions which was granted by the Court of Appeal. The appeal contended that the verdicts were unreasonable or could not be supported by the evidence, however; the appeal was dismissed by a two-to-one majority. The dissenting judge supported his decision with the opinion that there was reasonable doubt regarding the evidence.
The High Court found that the Court of Appeal failed to consider whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place and therefore reasonable doubt. For anyone outside Australia, to be proven guilty of a crime, the jury must find it beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime. Assuming that the jury assessed the complainant’s evidence as credibly and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witness required a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt in related to each conviction.
I don’t want to enter into too much analysis while the decision is still new, however; these are some essential things to take out of this decision.
Firstly, this decision is final. The High Court of Australia is the highest jurisdiction in Australia, and this decision is now settled. There are no more appeals, no more debates, this is the final decision.
That is why I believe the discussion following this decision must not be focused on Pell. The court has found there to be reasonable doubt regarding his conviction, and we must acknowledge (not necessarily support) that decision. Now, we must focus on the future and the victims.
We cannot let any form of child sexual abuse occur in Australia or around the world. This case needs to be a wake-up call for many institutions that protecting children should be their number one priority. These attacks stay with someone for their whole life and can be utterly debilitating. No matter what the decision was in the High Court today, we must do better.
To the victims, this is not the decision you wanted. I have already looked at the High Court’s Twitter page to see threads of verbal abuse. I can understand, and it is entirely fair to be angry. We are here to support you through this time. If you need help or someone to talk to, please reach out.
We are all here to support you during this time.