Andrew L. Urban.
Cardinal George Pell’s conviction of child sexual abuse has been upheld today in a 2-1 decision by the appeal court judges.
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell dismissed it, while Justice Mark Weinberg upheld the appeal. The two judges agreed it “was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt Cardinal Pell was guilty as charged” and also dismissed the appeal on technical grounds.
The decision means Pell will remain behind bars and continue to serve his six-year prison term. Pell, 78, will be eligible for parole three years and eight months into his sentence, although he is also free to appeal the decision to dismiss his appeal in the High Court.
In his dissenting judgment, Justice Weinberg found that, at times, the complainant was inclined to embellish aspects of his account. He concluded that his evidence contained discrepancies, displayed inadequacies, and otherwise lacked probative value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.
He could not exclude as a reasonable possibility that some of what the complainant said was concocted, particularly in relation to the second incident. Justice Weinberg found that the complainant’s account of the second incident was entirely implausible and quite unconvincing. Nevertheless, Justice Weinberg stated that in relation to the first incident, if the complainant’s evidence was the only evidence, he might well have found it difficult to say that the jury, acting reasonably, were ‘bound’ to have a reasonable doubt about the Cardinal’s guilt. He went on to note, however, that there was more than just the complainant’s evidence. In Justice Weinberg’s view there was a significant body of cogent and, in some cases, impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant’s account was, in a realistic sense, ‘impossible’ to accept.
To his mind, there is a significant possibility that the Cardinal may not have committed the offences. In those circumstances, Justice Weinberg stated that in his view the convictions could not stand.
Cardinal Pell’s spokeswoman, Katrina Lee, has issued a statement expressing his disappointment at today’s decision and maintaining his innocence.
“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” Lee said. “However, his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgment in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.
“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence. We thank his many supporters.”