Australia’s most high-profile prisoner Cardinal George Pell will learn if he has won his bid to be freed on appeal on August 21.
The proceedings will be streamed live over the internet on the Supreme Court of Victoria’s website, with a delay of about 15 seconds. The New Daily will broadcast the judgment as it happens.
After nearly six months in solitary confinement, the 78-year-old former treasurer for the Vatican will be immediately released if three judges at the Supreme Court of Victoria decide his shock conviction for abusing two choirboys is unsafe.
If his bid fails, sources say Pell will “more than certainly” lodge a further appeal with the High Court to try to avoid serving his sentence of three years and eight months behind bars.
If he wins his appeal, crown prosecutors would also have the option of appealing the decision at the High Court.
The appeal, heard over two days in June this year, came after the cleric was found guilty by a unanimous jury on December 11, 2018, on five counts of abusing the two boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne. The conviction came after an earlier trial resulted in a hung jury last September.
Over two tense and dramatic days at the Supreme Court of Victoria, 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, Mr Walker said the incident could not have taken place in the busy area.
“No one else, apart from the victim or the perpetrator, was in that room for five or six minutes,” he said.
However, on the second day of the appeal, crown prosecutor Christopher Boyce argued the victim’s evidence was “compelling” and he should be believed.
He said the accuser was “taxed on everything under the sun” by Robert Richter, one of Australia’s leading defence barristers and notorious for his forensic and fierce questioning.
“This wasn’t a cross-examination, this was a great cross-examination,” he said.
“This witness dealt with it willingly and with patience … things he got wrong he would concede.”
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,” he said.
While Mr Boyce seemed at times to struggle to answer the judges’ questions, prompting criticism among media commentators and advocates for his lack of lucid presentation, the judges said they would need time to examine all the evidence in the matter, including transcripts and recordings.
Pell, who has always strongly denied committing the crimes, is said to be a model inmate at Melbourne Assessment Prison.
“He reads, writes letters and is very co-operative with staff,” a judicial source told The New Daily.
He is being held in a special segregation unit of the prison because of fears he might be attacked by fellow inmates.
Pell’s position as the Vatican’s treasurer expired in February. However, in in theory he could – if he is cleared – return to Rome and take up usual daily duties as a cardinal.
However, sources in Rome told The New Daily that Pell might not be welcomed, with the Holy See already tainted by a litany of clergy abuse cases in recent years.
“His conviction caused such a shock, it would be hard for him to recover from that,” the source said.
Investigative journalist and writer Lucie Morris-Marr has covered the 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.