07 April 2020, The Tablet

The Cardinal Pell case highlights the serious need for legal reform


The Cardinal Pell case highlights the serious need for legal reform

Cardinal Pell pictured in 2017
Photo: CNS/Reuters, Mark Dadswell

 

An Australian Jesuit priest and lawyer who attended some of the hearings welcomes the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell. The legal process has caused needless pain to the complainant, to Pell and to the community, and exposed failures in the justice system in the state of Victoria

Cardinal George Pell has been acquitted of all charges of child sexual abuse by Australia’s highest court, the High Court of Australia. The High Court is similar to the Supreme Courts in the UK and the United States. The court has seven judges. In criminal cases, they usually sit only a bench of five judges. In Pell’s case, the full bench of seven sat. They knew the world was watching. They often write separate opinions, but in the case of Cardinal Pell, they all put their name to one judgment. They unanimously upheld his appeal and in almost record time.

At the appeal, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for the State of Victoria, where Pell was charged, appeared in person. She submitted to the court that if the judges were minded to uphold the appeal, they should at least refer the matter back to the Victorian state court for final determination. All seven High Court judges described that submission with one word: “specious”. This highlights why the Pell trial needs some local context to be readily understood by readers outside Australia.

British readers are used to jokes about kangaroo courts in the land down under. But in this instance, those overseas need to understand that all is not well with the system of criminal justice in the Australian state of Victoria. Cardinal Pell has been a major casualty in this clash and decline of institutions. The unsuspecting complainant who brought the case against him has had to suffer untold additional trauma because of the shortcomings of the Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions.

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