A “genius” appeal judge who was the sole dissenter in the decision to reject Cardinal George Pell’s bid for freedom could be his last remaining hope, legal experts have told The New Daily.
Justice Mark Weinberg, 71, who has been awarded multiple plaudits during his long academic and legal career, strongly disagreed with the decision to dismiss the main ground for Pell’s appeal against his conviction for abusing two choirboys in the 1990s.
His extensive remarks in the 300-page full decision take up nearly 200 pages.
In his conclusion regarding the first ground, he says he “would grant leave to appeal against conviction”.
“I would order that the appeal be treated as having been heard instanter, and that it be allowed. I would set aside each of the convictions sustained below, and the sentences passed thereon. I would further order that there be entered judgment and verdicts of acquittal on each charge.”
Pell’s legal team are said to be “working around the clock” trying to decide if his views can lead as a basis for a successful High Court appeal.
Justice Weinberg voted against Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell in their key decision to dismiss ground one of the appeal – that the jury made an error in convicting Pell in December and that its decision was unsafe and unreasonable.
The decision handed down early on Wednesday means Pell is not eligible for parole until October 2022 after the three-judge panel rejected the appeal 2-1 and upheld his six-year sentence.
Justice Weinberg, who retired last year but returns to sit on occasional important appeal cases, graduated with a first-class honours degree from Monash University and was awarded the Supreme Court Prize in 1970.
Considered to have “genius” qualities among his peers, in 1972 he received the Vinerian Scholarship for being the top graduate of the Bachelor of Civil Law from the University of Oxford.
By 1975 he had been called to the Victorian Bar and became Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions from 1988 to 1991.
In 2008 he resigned his other appointments to take up office as a judge of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Reading out their strongly worded decision in a packed courtroom Justice Weinberg sat to the left of Justice Ferguson as she dismissed all 13 “obstacles” to the two attacks Pell carried out at St Patrick’s Cathedral that were presented by his appeal legal team.
She also said the surviving choirboy was wholly believable and had not made up the allegations, as alleged by Pell and his team.
Justice Ferguson told the court the judges decided the surviving choirboy was “not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of the truth”.
They went on to dismiss the second and third grounds of the appeal with a scathing undertone.
The judges ruled Pell was appropriately arraigned in the presence of the jury via video link and that the infamous “Pac Man” video, showing where the Cardinal, staff and choirboys were situated at the Cathedral in a form of animated dots, was “tendentious in the extreme”.
The former treasurer to the Vatican, who was convicted in December after the first trial resulted in a hung jury, gripped the dock with his hand and looked at Justice Ferguson as she announced he’d lost his bid.
Legal sources say Pell’s team now needs to establish a “valid pathway” in the judgment to make a strong new appeal case.
“It really does depend on the exact wording, the fine detail,” a legal source told The New Daily.
“And the question is, has Weinberg actually left anything open that Pell’s team can legitimately seize upon and run with?
“As it stands it seems like a long shot, but Pell more than likely will take what he can at this stage.”
The team, including barristers Bret Walker, Ruth Shann and Pell’s long-time solicitor Paul Galbally, have just 28 days to lodge a special leave application.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a media conference afterwards Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia Medal.
But it later emerged that Governor-General David Hurley would not take actions to revoke the honour until after a potential High Court challenge is resolved.
In the meantime, Corrections Victoria may still move forward in moving Pell to a more suitable facility than maximum-security Melbourne Assessment Prison.
Due to his high profile and considered high risk from attack from fellow inmates, Pell has been forced to spend 23 hours a day locked in his cell in a segregation unit at the facility on Melbourne’s Spencer Street.
He’s most likely to be moved to Hopkins Correctional Centre at Ararat in country Victoria, The New Daily understands.
It’s here multiple pedophile clergy priests are incarcerated together at the “medium protection prison”.
Inmates include Pell’s former housemate Father Gerald Ridsdale and some of the Christian Brother teachers who abused children at Ballarat’s St Alipius Church and school in the 1970s.
Pell could well find himself busy working at the prison as part of its new “Better Living Model”, an innovative case management model for prisoner management.
All prisoners capable of work are employed full time and are allocated to an industry area, such as wooden products, screen printing, metal fabrication, number plate printing, laundry, kitchen and general maintenance.
A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokesman told The New Daily there are just under 700 prisoners at the facility.
“There are also usually 50 offenders at Corella Place,” he said.
“Corella is a supervised residential facility for serious sex offenders on post-sentence orders.”
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 www.bookdepository.com