Pell quarantine thread

The High Court will bring down its judgement on George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on child sex abuse offences. Since this may generate vigorous discussion of at most tangential relevance to this blog’s core subject, I ask that those wishing to argue the toss do so here.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

191 comments on “Pell quarantine thread”

  1. To this non-lawyer, the High Court’s approach to the Constitution and other matters over the past decade or so seems to have become increasingly black letter, with one notable exception.

    – They went very black letter on the powers of the Commonwealth in the 2012 Williams case, which was a big win for anyone who cared deeply about the school chaplain issue, but will be to the long-term disadvantage of any future government with Whitlamesque ambitions to expand the role of the Federal Government in social policy and a range of other areas.

    – They also went to town on very strict black letter interpretations of section 44 which ended up creating a bit of a political crisis which seemed to me to be more detrimental than helpful to the body politic overall.

    – The seeming exception is when they adopted what seemed to be a more activist and adventurous approach in relation to the deportation of people claiming Indigenous ancestry. . In making this decision, they seemed to adopt a firmer position on who is/isn’t Indigenous than had been taken in previous High Court judgements, which had tended to skirt around the issue a fair bit (rightly in my opinion, but we’ll see what the future brings on this one).

    – And now we have what appears once again to be a very strict black letter approach towards the interpretation of evidence in the Pell case.

    I ask Shellbell and anyone else with real expertise: is this a thing? Am I correct in identifying a more black letter approach than was favoured by the likes of Mason and Brennan?

  2. Diogenes:

    [‘There is a lot to be said for dispensing with jury trials.’]

    Some jurisdictions (eg, NSW, Qld, WA) allow for judge-only trials, subject to satisfying certain criteria. Victoria was considering them but I’m not sure if they’re allowed there yet. Very few jury verdicts are overturned on appeal; they will always have a place in the criminal justice system – in fact, they’re guaranteed under s.80 of the Constitution for indictable offences.

  3. I guess now the victims are now what – officially branded liars?

    This is the saddest part. The poor guy stood to gain nothing and everything to lose by making his allegation. I would have thought that should have counted for something.

  4. BW

    They don’t have to sue Pell directly.

    May be able to get o/s documents but most lawyers running these cases are using their own money so getting the essential documents and getting the claim mediated are more attractive than holus bolus.

  5. The High Court judges seem to be assuming that:

    1. Child sex offenders only commit offences if they have an extended period of alone time with the victim.

    2. Child sex offenders only commit offences if there is zero risk of detection.

    In the real world it is not uncommon for child sex offenders to commit crimes that are brief and opportunistic, and to behave in a brazen way that involves offending despite a risk of being noticed.

    So what if Pell spent time on the steps of the church, and so what if there were people milling around the sacristy, and so what if the Monsignor accompanied Pell for much of the time? There still would have been opportunity to commit the offences, which only required a few minutes on each occasion. It should have been open to the jury to weigh up all of the evidence and conclude that the offences did occur beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The High Court second-guessed a reasonable decision by the jury. There is no point in having jury trials if High Court judges with no understanding of child sexual abuse are just going to make up rules that reflect flawed assumptions about how offenders behave.

  6. Given this outcome I would be happy for Pell to be returned to Italy immediately.

    I respect that the decision may be correct in terms of the law, but I wonder if the prosecution had simply chosen to challenge the evidence of the opportunity witnesses, whether the outcome would have been different?

  7. Spray @ #198 Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 – 10:37 am

    Barney in Tanjung Bunga @ #195 Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 – 10:34 am

    Bushfire Bill @ #176 Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 – 8:11 am

    Re. Pell: told youse so.

    Our legal system is broken.

    Can’t wait to see the RC transcripts.

    Unless of course he didn’t do it. In which case our legal system is perfectly sound.

    It all comes down to who you believe was telling the truth, the victim, who had everything to lose, and went through hell, or Pell, who had everything to lose, and put himself and thousands of others through hell. I have my opinion on that. Everybody else can make up their own mind. The High Court’s finding relates to the law. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth, and is an irrelevance.

    As I have stated before, I have no qualms at all about him being found not guilty. His actions speak much louder than words. He is a low, evil, narcissistic, sociopathic bastard, and has paid, and will continue to pay for the rest of his life for that fact. He deserves every little bit of the consequences of his actions. He has succeeded magnificently in ensuring that his cult is seen for the abscess on society that it is. Its admitted followers fell by over a third between the last two censuses, and continues to fall. By any measure, he is a living, breathing, walking disaster area, for his cult, and the others who had the misfortune of falling under his influence.

  8. Am I correct in identifying a more black letter approach than was favoured by the likes of Mason and Brennan?

    I can only analyse from my one limited area of expertise, and I would argue the High Court just hasn’t been very good at it. So not so much ‘black letter’ which you could argue is a good thing, but more ‘lost and confused but not prepared to admit it’ which is never a good thing.

  9. WeWantPaul:

    Tuesday, April 7, 2020 at 10:59 am

    [‘…not mindlessly worshiped and accepted like we live in a dictatorship.’]

    I see where you’re coming from. I’m not worshiping the HC’s decision but I’m acceptive of it.

  10. MB

    Black letter is a bit of a label.

    It appears like a very conservative High Court which is interesting because it has some deeply progressive appointees. Having said that, the touchstone cases for Pell were from the Mason era, sometimes derided as an overly progressive court.

    For me, it is back to basics type court which explains the heavy emphasis on criminal law, which I have addressed. It has overturned a large number of decision of States’ Courts of Appeal – much more than its predecessors. That has been to the benefit of both prosecutor and accused. This is another one.

    Most of the accuseds in the very many criminal cases it has reviewed would be, probably legal aid cases.

  11. We Want Paul

    Just because you don’t agree with the High Court doesn’t mean that they are wrong.

    I don’t agree with a number of their decisions but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong.

  12. Also there is no real reason to expect the legal fraternity is any better at identifying and promoting merit than all the other systems we have in our society that reject merit, any slight hint of independent thought spirit or actual leadership, very early on and promote and protect the mediocre and worse.

    There are quite a few reasons to expect they’d be up there with the worst.

    I remember a conference with our QC and their offsider, lets just say I was very glad their offsider came and of course the QC is now on the bench. But the people who didn’t understand the technical legal question loved the certainty and bravado of the QC. The QC was superb at marketing and being commercial I’m just not sure they were good at, you know, actual law.

  13. I’m acceptive of it

    my apologies for my grumpiness, I accept it too, but i take it as a red flag that we need to do better, we need to be better, and the HC is a part of that.

  14. I can’t recall a Church Service where the Priest/Bishop/Arch Bishop taking the service didn’t greet people outside immediately afterwards for at least 10-20 minutes greeting people and having a quick chat.

  15. MB:

    [‘The seeming exception is when they adopted what seemed to be a more activist and adventurous approach in relation to the deportation of people claiming Indigenous ancestry.’]

    Yes, that decision was one out of left field, reflecting fairly recent appointments such as Edelman, and which evidences that the HC can still be innovative, even activist. I think the court got it right, though it has was heavily criticsed by the Right-wing media, Dutton and Porter attempting to navigate around it.

  16. WeWantPaul:

    my apologies for my grumpiness, I accept it too, but i take it as a red flag that we need to do better, we need to be better, and the HC is a part of that.

    Cheers.

  17. Bucephalus:

    “We Want Paul
    It is not a terrible decision.”

    Well it certainly isn’t a terrible decision if Pell was in fact innocent of this particular charge (I’m not talking about all the other things he was accused of in Royal Commissions and the media, etc.)

    As the media was not permitted to report on the initial trial in its entirety, none of us are in a very good place to comment on the jury’s verdict. One always had the impression that the case depended heavily on the jury’s assessment of the credibility of the key witness, and that the corroborating evidence was not as strong as the prosecution would have liked.

    There is an increasingly strong view expressed by advocates for victims – particularly in America but also here – that we ought to “believe the survivors”. If this means that we should accept their statements in the absence of any credible corroborating evidence, and thereby destroy people’s careers or condemn them to prison or worse, then I strongly disagree.

    My reading of the High Court’s decision is that the learned judges decided that such corroborating evidence as existed about the events definitely cast reasonable doubt on the verdict, and that the only way of maintaining the verdict was to ignore the shortcomings in that corroborating evidence.

    While I have no idea whether or not this is a reasonable judgement on the facts of this particular matter, it’s the sort of judgement I think I would like the High Court to be able to make in relation to criminal matters.

  18. ‘Shellbell says:
    Tuesday, April 7, 2020 at 11:13 am

    BW

    They don’t have to sue Pell directly.

    May be able to get o/s documents but most lawyers running these cases are using their own money so getting the essential documents and getting the claim mediated are more attractive than holus bolus.’

    Thank you. What happens in mediation when the single most important thing for the claimant is for Pell to admit the truth and the claimant won’t budge from that position?

  19. Bucephalus,

    “The guy stood to gain the reputation as the guy who took down one of the most hated men in the Catholic Church.”

    All the while doing everything he could to keep his identity out of the public domain. Yah, makes sense.

    Its a shame that we seem to live in a society where victims of abuse – particularly when its abuse from powerful and privileged men, are by default assumed to be greedy liars hell bent on destroying the reputations of upstanding pillars of our society. But this has always been the mentality I suppose – traditionally when it involves female victims – but I guess defenceless boys also fit the bill.

  20. Cardinal George Pell says he holds no ill will towards his accuser and has thanked his family, friends and supporters after the unanimous decision of the High Court of Australia to quash his convictions for historical sex abuse offences.

    “I hold no ill will toward my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough,” said the cardinal in a statement.

    “However my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.

    “The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”

  21. meher baba

    It is abundantly clear that many people and particular certain posters on this site believe that Pell should be locked up even if he is not guilty because he is the biggest scalp that can be taken from the Catholic Church. It is a disgraceful attitude and highly hypocritical as many of them supposedly believe in things such as natural justice, equality before the law , innocent until proven guilty etc – except for Pell.

    I am an Atheist and was raised a Protestant so I don’t have a dog in this fight except for defending the rule of law and concepts like guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

  22. Archbishop Mark Coleridge has issued a statement in response to the court’s judgement.

    It says:

    The high court of Australia has today announced that it has quashed Cardinal George Pell’s convictions on historical sexual abuse charges. The court has ordered that he be released from prison.

    Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process.

    We also recognise that the high court’s decision will be devastating for others. Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion.

    The result today does not change the church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse. The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community.

    Any person with allegations of sexual abuse by church personnel should go to the police.

  23. BW

    I have only seen the apologies in indigenous cases where it is a delegate of a government department.

    Mediations always resolve on confidential/non-admissions basis. The former is good. The latter normally comes with placatory words (including by me on occasion) that the payment is the admission.

  24. Big A Adrian

    So, you think that the principle of being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt should be dropped in criminal cases or just in ones where you don’t like the defendant?

  25. The jury heard all the evidence. I don’t accept that the High Court should tell them they should have entertained a reasonable doubt. Had they had doubt they would not have convicted.

    This makes a mockery of jury trials.

  26. Buce

    I assume your personal experience about what their holinesses ALWAYS did immediately after mass is meant to demonstrate that Pell’s victims had to have been lying because Pell would have been on the steps at the time.

    FWIW in relation to Pell’s victims, which is precisely nothing at all, I was an altar boy for years. I calculate I attended well over one thousand masses plus numerous other religious happenings during my childhood and my youth. Sometimes the priests/bishops gladhanded the parishioners afterwards. Sometimes not. Those were the days when a country priest might say three masses in three different parishes on a Sunday morning. We would disrobe, belt into the priest’s car, and zoom to the next town and the next church and the next mass. They mostly drove as if God was (a) in charge of traffic laws and (b) possibly waiting for them around the next corner.

  27. “I can’t recall a Church Service where the Priest/Bishop/Arch Bishop taking the service didn’t greet people outside immediately afterwards for at least 10-20 minutes greeting people and having a quick chat.”

    I can. Plenty in the 50 years I went to Catholic Mass.

  28. Mavis: “I think the court got it right, though it has was heavily criticised by the Right-wing media, Dutton and Porter attempting to navigate around it.”

    I respectfully beg to differ. I think our rather flexible approach towards defining Indigeneity in Australia is a good thing. While I find Bruce Pascoe’s claims to Aboriginal ancestry to be pretty unconvincing, I was rather pleased to see the Federal Minister Ken Wyatt more or less adopt the view that “Bruce is on our side and he wants to be one of us and I say that’s good enough for me.” It was good enough in the past in relation to activists such as Roberta Sykes (whose personal claim to Aboriginal ancestry must be seen as rather doubtful, but who was a very strong activist) and Faith Bandler (who never represented herself as being Aboriginal, but whose ancestry as a Kanaka and her deep commitment to the Indigenous cause meant that Aboriginal activists of the time embraced her as one of their own).

    What we really don’t want to see in Australia, especially as Indigenous communities gain control over more resources through native title and other positive programs, are large-scale legal disputes over who is/isn’t Indigenous and thereby who has any rights in relation to those resources. We’ve already had a few of them down here in Tassie, and they have long been rife in North America, where many indigenous communities operate casinos and outlets selling duty free goods, and people are forced to resort to DNA tests to establish their indigeneity or otherwise.

    For a long time the High Court pointedly avoided confronting the issue of whether or not it was essential to have indigenous ancestry to be considered indigenous, or whether simply having a connections to a community through things like culture and co-habitation would be sufficient.

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting this, but it seems to me that the High Court’s recent decision has elevated the significance of genetics over other factors in terms of determining indigeneity. I certainly hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case going forward as, like the Court’s section 44 judgements, it might create more problems than it solves.

  29. Terrible decision.

    There is a conga line of civil cases lined up against Pell.

    I will be most concerned if our small fry are enrolled in catholic parochial schools & I bet enrolments in catholic parochial schools will fall off a cliff

    Will Pell return to Rome?

  30. The real outcome of this case is:

    ● that the legal system has taken its course,

    ● the general principle that “hard cases make bad law” (in this instance hard cases for the victims of abuse) has been reasserted, and

    ● Pell will live in disgrace forever… for what he DID do, not what he DIDN’T do.

  31. Its a shame that we seem to live in a society where victims of abuse – particularly when its abuse from powerful and privileged men, are by default assumed to be greedy liars hell bent on destroying the reputations of upstanding pillars of our society. But this has always been the mentality I suppose – traditionally when it involves female victims – but I guess defenceless boys also fit the bill.

    ____________________________-

    I find it interesting that when someone ascribes nasty motives to an ordinary person, without any evidence, the behaviour alleged is what that person has done and would do themselves. Right wingers, in particular, cannot conceive of others having a more moral and ethical position than their own low standards.

  32. So power, influence and wealth had nothing to do with this outcome for Pell.
    Okay, I will go along with that as the judges are smarter than me.
    They, the judges, have determined that all the previous legal actions from investigation, trial and conviction were flawed.
    Okay, while I am sceptical, I will accept this too…
    However, while Pell is deemed not guilty of the particular charge, many elements of the Catholic church here, in the USA, Ireland, Chile and goodness knows where else in the Catholic world, have been as guilty as hell of child molestation…
    That Pell was the second ranked Catholic in the world either says he did not know about any of the actions of his fellow clerics, or if he did, did not seem to act in the interests of any other body other than the church, makes him at least complicit in all this.
    All the shouting from the roof tops from Pell’s influential friends and supporters cannot change his association with a morally corrupt organisation.
    My hope is that Pell is confronted by an avalanche of civil actions for a long time to come………………

  33. The court seems to have elevated the hypothetical statements from the “opportunity evidence” over the direct evidence of the victim so they can say they are not disbelieving the victim but rather ruling on a point of law.

    This seems to me to be a pretty cowardly of getting out of it. JenAuthor has put it pretty well on Twitter:

    JenniferBAuthor @conceravota
    Bankrobber: “I don’t usually rob banks, so I couldn’t have done it”

    High Court: “that’s okay then, off you go”

    Meanwhile … victims are cringing with fear and anxiety.

    The law is an ass.

  34. TPOF: “I find it interesting that when someone ascribes nasty motives to an ordinary person, without any evidence, the behaviour alleged is what that person has done and would do themselves. Right wingers, in particular, cannot conceive of others having a more moral and ethical position than their own low standards.”

    As opposed to the high moral standards that these writers claim were achieved by leading leftists such as (just to pick a few at random, focusing on sexual behaviour):

    Stalin’s henchman LP Beria: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/01/grappling-with-historys-greatest-gangsters/283083/

    Mao Tse Tung: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jun/04/featuresreviews.guardianreview10

    or Gerry Healy, leader of the British Workers Revolutionary Party (of which Vanessa Redgrave was a stalwart):

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/03/far-left-no-place-feminists-rape

    I consider myself to be neither left wing nor right wing, but it always gets my goat when lefties start proclaiming moral superiority over everyone else.

    There are many extremely bad people in this world. Some of the bad are driven by their views and attitudes but, in my observation, a greater proportion were born bad and/or corrupted by power.

  35. No-ones opinion of Pell will change. That is one thing a high court can’t arrange.

    He will now live out his days in a different prison …still despised.

  36. Well 7-nil is pretty definitive.
    I am prepared to accept Pell is innocent of this particular crime, although still one of life’s biggest assholes.
    But does this mean the complainant should be prosecuted for perjury?

  37. Historyintime @ #87 Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 – 10:33 am

    Well 7-nil is pretty definitive.
    I am prepared to accept Pell is innocent of this particular crime, although still one of life’s biggest assholes.
    But does this mean the complainant should be prosecuted for perjury?

    First off he was found not guilty as opposed to innocent. Secondly how would you prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the complainant perjured themself? The complainant’s testimony was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth according to his recollection of the incident.

  38. Bruce, ‘Good. The alleged assault was unbelievable’.

    Perhaps the 100+ Catholic priests and brothers locked up in various goals around Australia having been convicted on thousands of similar assaults would make it very believable.

  39. No-ones opinion of Pell will change. That is one thing a high court can’t arrange.

    It is the regard held for the courts that suffers, you’ve got on one side the trial, including all those top shelf lawyers, you’ve got the Victorian court of appeals, and now you’ve got on the other side the High Court. They can’t both be right.

    If I had to choose between 12 jurors, who you know heard the case, and the High Court, it isn’t even a tough decision. The jury by 10 laps.

    Legal arrogance at its worst and least defensible.

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