Day two of Cardinal Pell’s appeal underway

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Cardinal George Pell is seen at the Vatican press office in this 2017 file photo. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

Day two of Cardinal George Pell’s appeal proceedings in Victoria’s Court of Appeal commenced after his legal team spent the previous day attempting to convince the three judges hearing the case that the Cardinal could not have carried out the crimes for which he was convicted.

Cardinal Pell’s lawyers also argued that there had been a fundamental irregularity in the original trial process because the accused was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel, as required by the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

Cardinal Pell’s legal team, led by Bret Walker SC, argued that the timing of the Cardinal’s offending was a “critical matter” in deciding whether his conviction should be overturned.

The Cardinal’s appeal centres on three arguments, the key one being that the jury that convicted Cardinal Pell came to an unreasonable verdict based on the evidence given by more than 20 witnesses in favour of the Cardinal.

While a jury is meant to convict in cases where its members believe the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt, Cardinal Pell’s team has argued that the weight of evidence overwhelmingly favoured Cardinal Pell’s insistence of his innocence – hence their argument that his conviction ignored reasonable doubt he could have perpetrated the crimes.

A jury found Cardinal Pell guilty last December of abusing two boys inside St Patrick’s Melbourne cathedral in 1996. He was jailed in February for six years.

The former Prefect of the Economy of the Vatican is the most senior Catholic figure to be convicted of such crimes.

However, the Cardinal had strenuously maintained his innocence, arguing the verdict was unreasonable.

The hearing, which began yesterday, is set to run over two days in Victoria’s Court of Appeal.

Brett Walker SC also argued that evidence in Cardinal Pell’s original trial had proved the offenses could not have taken place and that County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd erred by preventing the defence from using a moving visual representation of its impossibility argument during the closing address.

The prosecution, led by Christopher Boyce QC, is spending today countering the arguments of Cardinal Pell’s team and arguing the guilty verdicts should be upheld.

In written submissions, they argued the jury was entitled to accept the complainant as a reliable and credible witness and that his allegations were not improbable when all the evidence was considered.

“When looking at the whole of the evidence, the integrity of the jury’s verdicts is unimpeachable,” they have argued.

The appeal is being heard by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Anne Ferguson, the president of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg.

A decision on the appeal could be weeks or months away and if unsuccessful, Cardinal Pell has declared he will not appeal the sentence.