Nearly two years after Cardinal George Pell was first convicted – and later acquitted – of child sexual abuse charges, media organisations are facing trial over stories about the case.
Suppression orders barred reporting anywhere in Australia of Cardinal Pell’s five convictions after a jury found him guilty in December 2018.
Cardinal Pell failed in a challenge to Victoria’s Court of Appeal, but the High Court overturned his convictions earlier this year.
At the time he was convicted he was facing separate allegations and due to stand trial for a second time – though that was later dropped.
Media were barred from reporting on the first convictions while the second trial was still scheduled to go ahead.
But international media organisations including The Daily Beast and the Washington Post published news stories revealing details of the case.
Prosecutors say two dozen journalists, commentators, editors and media organisations were in contempt of court in reports which alluded to Cardinal Pell’s convictions and directed the public to those international reports.
It has taken nearly two years for the trial to get underway, after lawyers for the media argued prosecutors repeatedly failed to fully detail the case against each accused.
The defences being presented have also not yet been revealed in court.
One of the articles in dispute was titled “The story we can’t report on” and went on to say that a “high profile Australian known across the world has been convicted of a serious crime but the details cannot be published by any media in the country”.
Will Houghton QC is representing a number of News Corp individuals, websites and newspapers in the case, including the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Geelong and Adelaide Advertisers and the Weekly Times.
Matt Collins QC is representing the remainder of the accused, including The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, Business Insider, 2GB, Channel Nine and Mamamia.
Prosecutor Lisa Di Ferrari said the timing of some of the publications in Australia coincided with applications by media companies for the suppression order to be varied or removed.
That application was refused and the order was extended to include references to that challenge.
The trial before Justice John Dixon is expected to last 10 to 15 days.