Brisbane High Court headquarters on Tuesday authorized Pell to appeal, ordering his immediate release and setting aside the conviction.
The High Court concluded that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, should have had doubts as to Pell’s guilt for each of the offenses for which he had been convicted, and ordered that the convictions be set aside and that the verdicts be rendered. of acquittal in their place.
In other words, it was not enough that the jurors found the witness credible, convincing and honest. The other evidence should have challenged her story, the bench found.
In a summary of the judgment, the bench stated that “in the event that the jury assessed the complainant’s testimony as being entirely credible and reliable, the testimony of the opportunity that the witnesses nevertheless demanded from the jury, acting rationally maintained a reasonable doubt that the applicant was guilty of the offenses involved in the two alleged incidents ”.
There was “an important possibility that an innocent person might have been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt at the level of evidence required,” said the bench.
Pell has maintained his innocence since his indictment in June 2017. In a statement released after the decision, Pell said he “has no ill will towards my accuser”.
“However, my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic church, nor a referendum on how church officials in Australia dealt with the crime of pedophilia in the church. The question was whether I had committed these horrific crimes, and I did not do it. “
In December 2018, a jury in Melbourne unanimously convicted Pell on five counts, believing the plaintiff who testified that in December 1996, after presiding over the solemn Sunday mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral as Archbishop of Melbourne.
The allegations had to be proven by the prosecution, with many witnesses called during the 2018 trial, including former altar servers and senior choir leaders, now aged.
The former altar boys who testified had difficulty remembering the details of the choir procession and the layout of the church more than two decades after the fact. To convict Pell, the jury must have believed without a doubt that the complainant was reliable and honest. They did, but the High Court found on Tuesday that belief in the complainant as a convincing witness was not enough to convict.
Pell’s legal team was chaired by prominent Bret Walker SC of Sydney. In June, when Pell’s first attempt to appeal to the Victoria Appeal Division of the Supreme Court, Walker argued that it was “literally impossible” for the complainant to have been mistreated, claiming that he there was a “formidable list” of factors and events that had to line up for the offense to be possible.
There was “strong, credible, unspelled” alibi evidence, including from the then master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli and sacristan Max Potter, that Pell’s practice was to greet parishioners on the steps of the cathedral immediately after mass, which would have made it impossible for Pell to be in the offensive sacristy, said Walker.
However, the court dismissed the two-to-one majority appeal, forcing Pell’s team to take the case to the High Court, the last avenue of appeal. For two days in March, Walker argued before all seven Canberra judges that, simply because the complainant was credible, he should not ignore other evidence that cast doubt on his evidence. Walker told the court that the appellant judges in Victoria may have been unduly influenced by the complainant’s testimony by watching a recorded video of him rather than simply reading the transcript of his testimony.
Judd responded by saying that, since Pell’s legal team had benefited so much from the complainant’s lack of credibility and credibility, the Victoria Court of Appeal had the right to watch the video. This does not mean that they raised him above the other evidence, or that they did not give due weight to the other evidence in the trial, she said. The jury considered the whole of the evidence in context, she added.
But ultimately, the court accepted Walker’s arguments. In an unusual move, the court only granted Pell permission – in other words, permission – to appeal until Tuesday, after arguments had already been heard in March. Usually leave to appeal is granted, and then arguments are heard.
In a statement after the verdict, Victoria police said, “We respect the High Court decision in this case and continue to provide support to the complainants involved.
“Victoria’s police remain committed to investigating and providing justice to victims of sexual assault, regardless of the number of years. We also want to acknowledge the tireless work of Taskforce Sano investigators on this matter for many years. “