By Clare Bruce
Catholic Cardinal George Pell’s conviction of child sex abuse has been overturned in the High Court today — a decision that will see him released from Barwon Prison in Victoria where he was serving a six-year sentence.
AAP reported that the court’s decision this morning was unanimous.
Pell has always maintained that he was innocent, and his appeal to the High Court was his last chance at having his conviction quashed.
Pell, now 78, has been in prison since being found guilty in December 2018 of five charges — including one that the Cardinal had sexually abused two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
He was Melbourne’s Archbishop at the time.
Photo: George Pell makes his way through the media pack at Melbourne County Court in 2018.
The complainant had made his report to Victorian Police in 2015, and the matter had to go before the County Court of Victoria twice in 2018, when the first jury failed to reach a verdict.
In 2019, Pell appealed to Victoria’s Court of Appeal. That bid was unsuccessful.
At that court hearing, the ABC reported that Pell’s lawyer, Bret Walker SC, argued the sexual offence was not possible because of the robes Pell wore, and his location in the church, which at the time was full of people.
Prosecutor Christopher Boyce QC argued however that the complainant was “a very compelling witness”, “clearly not a liar”, “not a fantasist”, and “a witness of truth”, who knew the layout of the priest’s room where the abuse was said to have occurred — a room off-limits to choirboys. The QC even offered the judges and jury a chance to try on the priest’s robes to help make up their minds.
During the two days of legal arguments at the High Court last month, Pell’s lawyers argued that the appeal court had failed to properly weigh up evidence that put his guilt in doubt, the ABC reported.
A summary of the court’s decision, handed down today, stated that the jury, “acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt”.