Fresh call to investigate events from arrest to final appeal
Victorian Liberal MP Bernie Finn has called for an independent inquiry into the treatment of Cardinal George Pell by the state’s police and justice systems which led to his arrest, conviction and imprisonment for historical sexual abuse charges which were quashed in April, as well as the rejection of his first appeal.
Mr Finn asked the Attorney-General Jill Hennessey to examine the role of the then-Chief Commissioner of Police Graham Ashton, as well as that of the ABC and some of its journalists to find out “how we can avoid trial by media in future, how did the Court of Appeal get it so very wrong and how could an innocent man in this day and age in Victoria be jailed in the way that Cardinal Pell was”.
“The integrity of the justice system in this state is very much on trial”
“My view and the view of a lot of people around Victoria and indeed around Australia is that the integrity of the justice system in this state is very much on trial,” said Mr Finn in the Victorian parliament’s Legislative Council on 18 June.
“There are major questions that are desperately in need of answers. “I would like to see an inquiry that is at arm’s length from Victoria Police, arm’s length from the judiciary and arm’s length from the government.”
Law experts support an inquiry
President of the St Thomas More Society Professor Michael McAuley supported Mr Finn’s call, saying that there were a number of problems from the beginning with the failure of police to interview all of the relevant witnesses.
“That’s a serious breach of police ethics and the Director of Public Prosecutions should have picked it up and insisted that they do so,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
The absence of a provision for judge-alone trials in cases generating high publicity was another “major problem in the Victorian system”, he said. Prof McAuley believes the current Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants should be given terms of reference to deal with the issues raised by Mr Finn.
Mr Finn told The Catholic Weekly that it was his first opportunity to formally address the issue, following the Cardinal’s acquittal of all charges in an unanimous decision by the High Court on 7 April.
“I was prompted by a sense of anger over what was a massive miscarriage of justice against a good man,” he said. “You don’t have to be Catholic to be concerned about this. If this can happen to Cardinal Pell it can happen to anyone and it clearly reveals a major flaw in Victoria’s so-called justice system.”
In April a number of other law experts and lawyers called for an investigation into the events that brought Cardinal George Pell to the High Court of Australia which finally acquitted him.
Sydney lawyer Greg Walsh said the case “raises many questions about the professionalism of the Victorian police and serious consideration should be given to establishing a government inquiry into their handling of the matter”.