CANBERRA, Australia, March 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Australian media are reporting that it has been a “good day” for Cardinal George Pell before the country’s High Court, which is hearing his appeal against his convictions for historic child sex offenses.
One legal expert present at the hearing said he believes it is a possibility that Pell will be acquitted by the High Court.
Pell was found guilty of two counts of child sex assault by a jury on December 11, 2018. He has always denied the charges, which hinge on the uncorroborated testimony of one person. Last year, the Victorian Court of Appeal upheld the guilty verdict.
According to reports, Pell’s prosecutors, led by Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions Kerry Judd QC, shifted their position on key evidence relating to Pell’s alleged sexual assault of two choirboys after Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
The prosecution has previously argued that there was a five- to six-minute window of opportunity during private prayer time immediately after Mass for Pell to have committed the offenses.
Several witnesses, including church officials, have testified that Pell – who had recently been appointed the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the alleged offense – would never have been alone in the cathedral. Moreover, they say it was his invariable practice to greet churchgoers at the front doors of the building immediately after Mass ended. Pell’s defense has also pointed out that he would have been fully vested immediately after Mass, making the logistics of the alleged offenses highly improbable.
Monsignor Charles Portelli, an aide to Pell in 1996, when the offenses are alleged to have taken place, has said that it was Pell’s habit to spend 10 to 20 minutes on the steps of the cathedral after Mass.
Prosecution changes position
During the first day of the appeal hearing yesterday, Pell’s lawyer, Brett Walker SC, said that there was “simply not the available time for it to occur.’’
But Judd changed her position at the appeal hearing today. Rather than saying that there had been a five- to six-minute window of opportunity for the offense, Judd instead said that it could not be stated for certain how long the private prayer time had lasted.
Judd also accepted that the prosecution may not have sufficiently negated the evidence of Monsignor Portelli, so as to exclude reasonable doubt about the alleged crimes.
When challenged by one of the High Court judges that Portelli’s evidence would necessitate an acquittal, because it would cast reasonable doubt over the convictions, Judd replied: “I do accept that when you look at Monsignor Portelli on his own, we may not be able to negate this to the standard we need to.”
“But in my submission, when you look at the whole of the evidence, it does,” she added.
Another crucial point in the case is whether the Victorian Court of Appeal, which last year upheld Pell’s original conviction by jury, should have viewed the video testimony of Pell’s sole accuser, which was presented at the original trial. Ordinarily appeal courts only view the transcripts of such recordings.
Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said at today’s hearing: “It’s very difficult to say how [the video] affected an intermediate appellate court judge in terms of how they read the transcript.”
“That’s why you really shouldn’t do it [watch the video] … unless there is a forensic reason to do it. To what extent is this court to determine the extent to which the court of appeal was influenced by the video?”
John Macauley, a former altar server at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne who has been present in court throughout the appeal hearing, commented earlier today that “the crown’s case had collapsed under the weight of its own malicious absurdity.”
‘Justices are demolishing the Victorian government's malicious and vexatious witch hunt against Cardinal Pell’
During the trial proceedings, Macauley posted to Facebook: “justices are demolishing the Victorian government's malicious and vexatious witch hunt against Cardinal Pell. If they keep up their probing questions then they'll leave themselves no choice but to order +Pell's immediate release.”
Macauley told LifeSiteNews that bizarre concessions from Judd during today’s proceedings have jeopardized the case against Pell.
“At one point Judd claimed that ‘just because some evidence pointed to innocence doesn't mean the jury wasn't entitled to convict.’ In her own words Judd has conceded an egregious reversal of the onus of proof,” Macauley said.
“On another occasion Judd conceded that ‘if the timing means that the offending simply couldn’t have occurred, then they [the judges] are rejecting the complainant’s evidence.’ If this line of reasoning is to be accepted, then the ‘fear of not believing victims’ will have been allowed to cripple the rule of law.”
Jeremy Gans, a professor of law at Melbourne Law School, also attended the hearings. Gans told the media that based on today’s proceedings, he believes that an acquittal of Pell is a possibility. Gans tweeted earlier today: “It’s far from clear that all of the judges are on the same page…but it’s worth noting that there are several ways Pell can ‘win’… and each judge asked apparently (!) pro-acquittal questions.”
Pell has not been permitted to attend this week’s proceedings and remains in a maximum-security prison in Victoria.
The High Court has now granted the prosecution team two working days for any supplementary submissions. It is not clear at this stage when the judges will make a further announcement on the case.