• Cardinal George Pell was released from prison on April 7, 2020 after the High Court quashed his five convictions for child sexual abuse.
Disgraced Cardinal George Pell’s future could be decided by Australia’s highest court this week, but he won’t be there to see it.
The full bench of the High Court will hear his legal team’s final bid for his freedom in Canberra on Wednesday.
The 78-year-old was jailed for six years last year for sexually abusing two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, shortly after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
He was convicted by a jury in 2018 of the rape of one 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another. The first boy gave evidence against Pell while the second died in 2014.
Pell maintains his innocence.
Victoria’s Court of Appeal last year upheld the verdict in a 2-1 ruling.
The High Court has not formally granted Pell’s application for appeal, instead referring it “for argument”.
That means after the hearing, which is scheduled to continue on Thursday, the court refuses the application for special leave, or approves it and either allows or dismisses the appeal.
Pell’s lawyers are arguing the appeal on two grounds.
First they say the Court of Appeal majority – Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell – made an error in Pell was required to prove the offending was “impossible” to raise reasonable doubt against the surviving boy’s evidence.
The third judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, found in favour of Pell’s appeal.
Second, they argue the majority found there was a reasonable doubt about the existence of any opportunity for Pell to have offended, so they made an error in concluding the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable.
They want Pell’s convictions on five charges to be quashed. That would mean he is released from prison immediately.
Last month it was revealed the High Court had also raised legal questions over the use of video evidence in Pell’s previous appeal, rather than relying on written transcripts alone.
Victoria’s three most senior Court of Appeal judges watched the recorded evidence of 12 witnesses, including the complainant, visited St Patrick’s Cathedral and examined robes.
While Pell has been in court for all his hearings so far, he will remain in Barwon Prison, near Geelong, this week.
The proceedings also will not be live streamed, like his previous appeal was. That means he will have to rely on information being fed back through his lawyers.
Viv Waller, who represents the surviving choirboy, said he understood appeals were part of the checks and balances within the criminal justice system.
“Both my client and I are deeply respectful of that process,” she said in November.
Lisa Flynn, who represents the father of the boy who died, said her client hoped the High Court would uphold Pell’s convictions.
“This has been a very drawn-out process for him,” she said, adding that the man’s faith in the legal system would be lost if Pell was freed.