Andrew L. Urban
In its unanimous 7 – 0 decision, the High Court concludes its summary of the decision in the George Pell appeal with an abundance of restraint: “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
Today’s High Court’s decision is in complete synch with the dissenting view of Justice Weinberg of the Appeals Court, which refused Pell’s appeal 2 – 1. We reported some of the dissenting voices, including Weinberg’s, and suggested how the complainant’s testimony – claimed by many to be wholly credible – might be reconciled with Pell’s innocence.
Now with Pell’s convictions quashed, it can be argued that the Victorian legal system has revealed some significant flaws, magnified by a media unable to obey its obligations to objectivity. The complainant suffers mental health issues, it is now revealed, but the jury were not permitted to know this. The Victorian police culture that effectively hunted Pell, is fully discredited. The jury allowed itself to be convinced without justification. Nor were they warned that with such absence of evidence to corroborate the allegations, they must be certain that there is not a shadow of doubt about Pell’s guilt.
Still in restrained mode, “The Court held that, on the assumption that the jury had assessed the complainant’s evidence as thoroughly credible and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.”
“…acting rationally …” ? The feeding frenzy of the anti-Pell media and the Catholic church’s low standing in relation to child sexual abuse together contributed to the jury not ‘acting rationally’.
“The High Court considered that, while the Court of Appeal majority assessed the evidence of the opportunity witnesses as leaving open the possibility that the complainant’s account was correct, their Honours’ analysis failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.” Always restrained and respectful, even when outrage is warranted.
Reverberations of this case will haunt our legal system for decades.
And there are more such cases, see here