The High Court today overturned Cardinal George Pell’s convictions for the historical sexual abuse of two choirboys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
Cardinal Pell was found guilty by a jury in December 2018 of five counts relating to the sexual abuse of two boys under 16. His subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria was dismissed, with two judges upholding the convictions, and the third judge dissenting.
In allowing the appeal, the High Court unanimously held that assuming the jury had assessed the evidence of the complainant as thoroughly reliable and credible, the evidence of other witnesses still required the jury to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to Cardinal Pell’s guilt of the offences alleged against him. On that basis, the Court ordered that each conviction be quashed and verdicts of acquittal entered in their place.
There is no further avenue of appeal or review from the High Court’s decision, and Cardinal Pell will be freed from prison today.
We note that in deciding the case, the High Court examined specific evidence from the trial and applied established law. It is therefore a decision that turns on the facts of this particular case, and one that will have limited application to other criminal cases of allegations of sexual abuse against institutional officials.
We also note and welcome the statement released today by Victoria Police, accepting the decision of the High Court, and reiterating their commitment to supporting the complainants involved and “investigating sexual assault offences and providing justice for victims no matter how many years have passed.”
It is also very important for survivors to understand that the outcome of this case has no bearing at all on any redress application they may be pursuing. Each claim made against an institution for childhood sexual abuse is assessed on its own merits.
knowmore understands that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who continue to suffer complex trauma as a result of their experiences, have followed this case closely and may feel distressed by the outcome and/or the associated media coverage and commentary. If you require immediate support, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), or visit the National Redress Scheme’s website for a list of other support services.
knowmore clients with concerns or questions about their cases should continue to contact our relevant office. If you are survivor of institutional childhood sexual abuse and would like to find out about your redress options please call 1800 605 762.