High Court grants leave for George Pell appeal

The High Court today (Wednesday, November 13, 2019) has granted leave for George Pell to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal which upheld his conviction in December last year on one charge of sexual penetration with a child under 16 and four counts of indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child under 16, relating to two separate incidents at the cathedral in 1996 and 1997.

The appeal will be held in early 2010.

See our previous reports for more on this case:
Onus of proof reversed
Dissenting voices
Conviction upheld

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12 Responses to High Court grants leave for George Pell appeal

  1. Mez says:

    This is an educational set of videos for all those questioning the credibility of Pells victims – and YES, there ARE more than one. What psychology do the courts consider when it comes to credibility?



  2. Mez says:

    If I was innocent of such charges, I would help law enforcement identify all the perpetrators and collaborators by offering as much information and documentation as I could.

    Like Prince Andrew, Pell has done NOTHING to help ANYBODY even though they do have information that could help. With-holding this information spells GUILT!!

    End of story!

  3. Ever been sexually assaulted – then you can put forward your point of view!

    • Robinbowles@bigpond.com says:

      Alexandra, opinions are being offered here on the legal system, not the issue of sexual assault . Of course the over riding opinion about sexual assault is that it is unacceptable. However, one is entitled to an opinion about the legal system, whether or not one has experienced any kind of assault, sexual or otherwise. In our legal system, if there is insufficienct admissible evidence, a conviction is unsafe. Regardless of the public opinion about the accused.

      • Mez says:

        The High Courts oversee constitutional law. Not criminal or common law. Evidence of right or wrong doing by Pell or his victim, or guilt or innocence, has nothing to do with the constitution.

        The constitution applies to the legislature and the government, ie the rules they must abide by under a constitutional democracy.

        Pell has to be specifically challenging a specific law his lawyers perceive as unconstitutional to have been approved for a hearing at this level.

  4. Peter Robertson says:

    As someone critical of Pell, in his generally arch, repressive conservatism and his handling of the Church’s response in Australia to victims of abuse over the years, I never the less welcome the news that his right to appeal has been upheld. We must not allow the law to fall to opinions (like mine) and hearsay, we can’t have a safe judicial system if we cherry pick. Too much righteousness and virtue signalling tends to gather around crimes like these, along with the high and fully justified emotions of victims and those close to them. None of those things should factor in legal process and the conduct of trial, we must insist upon a judicial environment that is impartial, clinical and relies only upon provable, beyond reasonable doubt considerations in establishing the truth. Other factors of course may impact sentencing, but only after a safe conviction has been delivered.

  5. Robin Bowles says:

    Very erudite comment, Mary. All you say is true. And Garry, ‘he said’ ‘she said’ prosecutions are fraught with concern, ie when the judge/jury must come to a decision based on which person they ‘believed’. I saw it happen in the trial of Brad Murdoch for the murder of Peter Falconio. Already demonised by the media, with a judge who showed outright contempt for him, Murdoch didn’t stand a chance opposite the freshly groomed-and-rehearsed-for-court Joanne Lees. Regardless of guilt or innocence, Murdoch’s trial was a horrible farce. Our own Sue Neill-Fraser, likewise. Geoffrey Robertson QC once told me that outcomes in our adversarial court system often come down to not who has the best lawyer, but who is the best liar! The thing is with Pell, like him or dislike him for his activities in the Church, there was NO EVIDENCE. Just ‘he said’ and ‘he said’, in this case.

  6. Mary says:

    The main problem seems to occur with historic allegations of sexual abuse, particularly of people who were minors at the time. Granted that it is often difficult for a minor to complain at the time, however many minors do complain, either officially or to a friend, and the matter is investigated by the police, evidence and statements taken, and a decision whether to prosecute or not to prosecute is made.

    Forty or fifty years later there is no evidence. If there is no evidence, then there must be reasonable doubt and if there is reasonable doubt then there should be no conviction.

    However in the practice of the law at present, people are being convicted with no evidence except “the ring of truth”. “He was a credible witness”.

    Unfortunately lawyers, judges and juries are neither doctors nor psychologists but some of them seem to think they have some special ability to recognise the “ring of truth”.

    The truth is that knowing whether someone is telling the truth or not based on demeanour is a matter of chance. 50-50. The man in the street gets it right about 50 – 55% of the time and experts such as police, and presumably judges, even appellate judges, get it right about 45 – 50% of the time.

    Anyone can have the “ring of truth” if they believe what they are saying. They may even have been abused in the past in the way, or much the same way, as they have claimed in court. The only problem is that the perpetrator was someone different. Perhaps someone too close to home such as a family member, or a much admired teacher, or much loved parish priest and the victim unconsciously substitutes someone else as the perpetrator.

    Memory is correctly known to rely on how well the memory was laid down in the first place and how open it is to being correctly retrieved. How much trauma there was prior to the abuse and again, how much trauma the person has endured after the abuse for related or totally unrelated reasons.

    But memory is much more complicated than this. It can be influenced by a person’s expectations that he or she will be sexually abused in certain circumstances perhaps at the same time as being physically abused or perhaps in very private situations, so that the claimed sexual abuse is a subjective truth that certainly has the “ring of truth” or the person is judged to be a “credible” witness.

    There are many false memories perpetrated by the media reporting and constantly showing a particularly awful photo of a certain person whilst writing about that person in highly defamatory language.

    There are false memories as a result of merging historic memories and the victim will be totally convinced that his or her memory is correct. “I know what I remember”. “It’s always been in my head”.

    There is an emotional reward in belonging to a “victim” group. There is often a reward in finding something that will justify a “victim’s” own poor choices in life, although that does not appear to be the case in Pell’s accuser providing we have been told all the facts. There is incentive in financial reward.

    There is revenge for some real or perceived wrong which can translate over the years into a belief in sexual abuse if other psychological factors are present. Often victims suffer from significant mental health problems that are not necessarily revealed to a jury and those mental health problems can affect that person’s perception of a particular person as an abuser, and in particular, as their abuser.

    There can be anger at someone who represents the “face” of the church or government department or sport that the victim identifies with their real or imagined abuse.

    There can be total hallucinations rather than recovered memories which are really difficult to disprove twenty, thirty or fifty years later when there is no evidence. The accuser will certainly have the “ring of truth”.

    There can be outright lies, although I don’t think anyone is suggesting this in Pell’s accuser.

    There can be misidentification because of some similar features between the real perpetrator and the accused person. One might think it is difficult to misidentify someone so identifiable as Cardinal Pell, until one knows it is even possible to substitute a male for a female depending on the victim’s expectations of authority figures. Anyone who doubts this needs to read Janice Haaken’s mistake about a simple incident of getting into trouble over serious family mores from her father when in her early teens, and then finding her diary in her late twenties where she had described the event in detail about how it was her mother who had found her dancing to a forbidden Elvis record.

    The truth is that an adversarial system of justice is not equipped to arbitrate on matters that rely on inherently unreliable memories, particularly when those making the decisions know very little about the psychology of memory, and those prosecuting and defending likewise think it is all a matter of law without taking psychology into account. Sometimes all these lawyers don’t even take notice of specialist opinion regarding medical effects of stress on the memories of both the accusers and those accused. Receptors on neurones can become overloaded and “clogged” so that the message does not get through; and cardiac problems and other medical conditions can also become a serious memory problem for those under stress giving evidence. Clearly, historic sexual abuse allegations should not be decided on a “ring of truth”.

    • Garry Stannus says:

      Gee whiz, Mary: what an outstanding comment! I recall that Andrew some time ago posted on this blog something dealing with the notion of transferred memories (such as you have suggested in your comment here.) Hang on, I’ll go and look for it…

      … ah! Here it is:

      George Pell appeal: how compelling victim and conflicting facts co-exist
      Posted on June 6, 2019 by andrew

      Andrew L. Urban. This appeal underlines the conflict at the heart of many sexual abuse cases: the conflict between a compelling, moving and credible victim on the one hand, and conflicting facts on the other. They can co-exist, with one … Continue reading →
      [ https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2019/06/06/george-pell-appeal-how-compelling-victim-and-conflicting-facts-co-exist/ ]

      The term that Andrew used was ‘memory overlay’. I’d urge anyone reading these comments on this thread, to find the time to read Andrew’s article [at that link just above].

      When I read it (and now, again, having read Mary’s comment) I wondered if ‘memory overlay’ as a line of defence was advanced during the legal process which resulted in the guilty verdict and failed appeal.

      Of the case itself, I don’t know the truth and presumably I never will know it with confidence. Maybe Pell is guilty, maybe he is not. Maybe the victim told the truth … or maybe the victim told what he thought was the truth. Both of these last would possibly be accompanied by that “ring of truth”.

      I have a separate interest: it is in clarifying the approaches that courts should take when cases based on circumstantial evidence are advanced, when single witnesses make uncorroborated accusations and when allegations of historic crimes are made.

      ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’ is such a pliable term, in the hands of counsel, in the minds of a cohort within the Janes and John Does of this world, a cohort which is naturally suspicious of difference and yes … pliable even when from the lips of the judges who direct and advise juries.

  7. Garry Stannus says:

    The dissenting appeal judge was – as I recall – senior in his experience of such cases.

    There is the difficulty faced by many, of how to press the claim of sexual abuse, when it was likely to have been committed alone, that is, in the company only of the perpetrator.

    Then there is the other side: that of a person accused of sexual abuse by a single witness (the allegedly abused person).

    I think here we have a difficulty in the law (not the statute law necessarily) but in its practice. Should a person be convicted of assault on the evidence of just one person? Does the law allow such convictions to occur, years after? How can a victim achieve justice? How can the accused?

    • Mez says:

      Garry, there wasn’t just one person who reported Pell. There were dozens. The fact that he and his church were successful at whitling the list down to one single victim in this particular case is the only reason people want to defend him – THAT was the Church’s intention.

      The Choir Boys case was held separately, not even sure it has been convened yet. Then there’s the suicided cases who have been conveniently swept under a rug, even though they too reported it.

      This is not a case of one person’s word against the other. And if you listen to the victims: they don’t want money – they want justice! Not just for themselves but for those who suicided as well.

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