News George Pell What to expect on judgement day as George Pell fights for freedom

What to expect on judgement day as George Pell fights for freedom

george pell drone prison
George Pell when he was in custody in Melbourne. Photo: AAP
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• Cardinal George Pell was released from prison on April 7, 2020 after the High Court quashed his five convictions for child sexual abuse.

When Cardinal George Pell is woken by the piercing headcount alarm early next Wednesday, he will have spent 175 arduous nights in solitary confinement.

It has been announced that at 9.30am he will be in place in the dock of Court 15 at the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson will read a summary of the appeal decision made between herself and fellow judges, Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg.

And as the 78-year-old eats his simple prison breakfast, he will be desperately hoping he will not be back for dinner.

Melbourne Assessment Prison, based in the heart of bustling inner-city life on Melbourne’s Spencer Street, is no place for a restful slumber for an ageing cleric; the sounds of trams, taxis and late-night diners can be heard within its walls.

The irritating sounds of freedom, just metres from undignified incarceration.

His Eminence is considered by Corrections Victoria to be in such danger of being attacked, due to his high profile and nature of his crimes, he hasn’t come into contact with a single inmate since he was remanded by Judge Peter Kidd on February 27.

If Wednesday’s court appearance is like any of his others, hundreds of people – including journalists from around the world – will gather at the court to watch the him hear his fate.

Thousands more the world over will be plugged in to a live stream of the court proceeding, which will also be available on The New Daily site.

Pell’s hopes for exoneration and even a return to Rome rest with three appeal judges who have taken more than two months to announce the fate of the former treasurer to the Vatican, who was convicted in December of five counts of sexually abusing two young choirboys in the late 1990s.

George Pell Appeal
Pell was seen in court taking notes during day two of his appeal. Photo: AAP

The appeal judges would have initially voted on the matter among themselves, The New Daily understands, and only one of the judges would have then written the decision, which sources suggest would probably have been Weinberg due to his extensive criminal appeal experience.

“The decision would then be reviewed carefully by the other two judges, who may have suggested amendments and additions,” a legal source said.

“It’s a career-defining case for these judges with eyes of the world on them. They weren’t ever going to rush it.”

Possible outcomes

While their decision may seem black and white – free Pell or keep him behind bars — the outcomes are, in fact, far more complex.

If his bid fails, sources say he will ‘more than certainly’ lodge a further appeal with the High Court, which could take many months to even be heard but no doubt will be fiercely fought by his legal team.

Losing at the High Court would be Pell’s worse-case scenario: He can’t apply for parole until October 2022. By then he will be 81.

Equally, if he wins and walks jubilantly out of the historic front entrance of the court, crown prosecutors would also have the option of appealing against the decision at the High Court.

Another possible decision from the judges could be to quash one or two of the counts out of the five convicted charges – meaning a reduced sentence for Pell but still a return to prison, and a possible move to a more suitable regional prison, such as Hopkins Correctional Centre at Ararat.

“The charge regarding the choirboy who died would be the most likely one to be quashed, if any,” the legal source said.

“He obviously never gave evidence and even denied to his mother he had been abused at the Cathedral.”

The most remote outcome expected would be for Pell to face a retrial if the judges uphold the technical ground argued by his legal team that Pell wasn’t formally arraigned in front of the sworn in jury. (He made his plea at the start of the trial via video link to the large pool of potential jurors in another room.)

“There are several outcomes which indicate that whatever happens this case isn’t over. It could, in fact, take a very long time to resolve if it moves forward to the High Court,” the legal source said.

The exact wording of the decision in particular will be vital in any decision to appeal at the High Court and the legal teams will be looking very carefully at that whatever happens.”

The appeal hearing itself, heard over two days in June, came after the cleric was found guilty by an unanimous jury on five counts of abusing the two boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne.

The conviction came after an earlier trial resulted in a hung jury last September.

The appeal

Over two days in early June, Pell’s Sydney-based barrister Bret Walker SC, argued fiercely during the appeal hearing that the guilty verdict at the end of the re-trial was a grave error by 12 members of the public.

Mr Walker, whose written submission argued there were 13 obstacles in the path of a conviction, said the most “obvious feature” of the “unsatisfactory” guilty verdict was the lack of witnesses to the alleged crimes.

The surviving choirboy, he said, was a “liar and fantasist’’.

Regarding the first assault in the sacristy after Sunday mass in 1996, he said the incident could not have taken place in the busy area.

However, on the second day of the appeal, crown prosecutor Christopher Boyce argued the victim’s evidence was “compelling” and he should be believed.

Asked by the judges why the choirboy never told anyone about the attacks at the time, Mr Boyce suggested he “just wanted to get on with his life”.

“It’s perfectly, perfectly reasonable for a boy to just want to get on with his life.”

Pell, who has always strongly denied committing the crimes, is said to be a model inmate in prison.

“He reads, writes letters and is very co-operative with staff,” a judicial source told The New Daily.

Pell’s position as treasurer expired in February but in theory, if he is cleared, he could return to Rome and take up usual daily duties as a Cardinal.

However sources in Rome told The New Daily Pell may not be welcomed, with the Holy See already tainted with a litany of clergy abuse cases in recent years.

He will fight to the last, but either way he has fallen.

And it’s unlikely any court decision could help him rise again.

Investigative journalist and writer Lucie Morris-Marr has covered the entire Pell case for The New Daily. Her forthcoming book, Fallen – The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell, will be published by Allen & Unwin on September 17 and can be pre-ordered at