March 9th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Commissioner Hayne offers banking stimulus

EDITORIAL Beijing's warning shot hits our soft economic underbelly

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coal ban just one front in Beijing's war on everyone

RURAL AFFAIRS Activist groups harass farmers while claiming tax-exempt status

BANKING ROYAL COMMISSION Dealing with disaster back into the too-hard basket

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Why Hungary and Poland rile the EU

RELIGION AND POLITICS Christians resolve to raise their voices in the public square

GENDER POLITICS Another freedom bites the dust under Daniel Andrews

FAMILY AND SOCIETY The end of 'Liberalism'

CHINA Thank you for your service, soft power; sharp power will take it from here

SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY Fermi's Paradox: Is Big Alien watching you?

MUSIC Perpetual vibe: From medium to media

CINEMA At Eternity's Gate: Impressions of Vincent

BOOK REVIEW Balanced account after the hysteria

BOOK REVIEW Golden Age for workers and its end



SPECIAL EDITORIAL Has Cardinal George Pell been wrongly convicted?

THE CARDINAL PELL CASE: Triumphalism over Pell verdict shows civilisation just a veneer


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Triumphalism over Pell verdict shows civilisation just a veneer

by Greg Barns

News Weekly, March 9, 2019

Australia likes to pride itself on being a civilised society. A nation where democracy and the rule of law flourish. We know, of course, that this is sadly not so.

Last week’s reaction to the now unsuppressed case against Cardinal George Pell was characterised by frightening ignorance on the part of many about how our legal system works, an awful sense of triumphalism on the part of some media who have pursued Cardinal Pell for some years, and above all the spectacle of a lynch mob literally screaming at the guilty man out the front of Melbourne’s County Court.

It says much about Australia that the veneer of civilisation is just that. There is an awful primitive gene that runs throughout this land. A gene that perpetuates vengeance, hatred and a disregard for circumspection. A gene that has no respect for the right to dignity of every person in the legal process, irrespective of who they are or what they represent.

Perhaps the most unseemly aspect of the Pell case aftermath was the mob baying for the ageing Cardinal’s blood and abusing his counsel, Robert Richter QC, as he entered the court building. This chaos was truly frightening. There was a complete lack of perspective. No one seemed for a moment to understand the importance in a civilised society of recognising that a person who has been found guilty of an offence should not have to endure the mob. Nor should any lawyer doing his or her job be subjected to abuse from ignorant crowds.

The triumphalism about the Pell verdict has been equally disturbing. The sight of two journalists who have pursued Cardinal Pell, David Marr and Lucie Morris-Marr, tweeting a photograph of the two of them grinning, was emblematic of this triumphalism.

Louise Milligan, who has written a book decidedly hostile to Cardinal Pell and that was removed from the shelves because of the criminal proceedings, did not take long to tweet that again her book would be for sale, updated of course.

Then there were calls on social media for any journalist or commentator, the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, for example, who supported Pell, to be sacked by their editors.

Then there was, as noted above, the extraordinary ignorance about how our criminal justice system works. Former Prime Minister John Howard was condemned by many for writing a character reference for Cardinal Pell with the knowledge of what the jury found Cardinal Pell had done. Despite this columnist and others pointing out to certain journalists that character references tendered in court only have value and weight in the sentencing process if the referee understands the charges, still the castigation of Mr Howard continued.

More disturbingly, but not surprising given the rank opportunism of most politicians, federal Labor MP Tim Watts tweeted: “Every time the Liberal Party roll out John Howard during the election, remind yourself he gave George Pell a character reference AFTER being made aware of his conviction.”

Mr Watts’ comments should be condemned and he should withdraw them. Not only does he exemplify shocking ignorance about how the sentencing process works but he is saying to the world no person should provide support to a person found guilty of sex offences.

The Pell case seems to have become a convenient vehicle for all of those who hate the Catholic Church and the Cardinal himself to vent their unseemly and unruly bile. There has been no respect or circumspection exercised, which would acknowledge the fact that Cardinal Pell’s legal team has filed an appeal against his verdict in the Court of Appeal in Victoria.

In fact, the screeching hordes may end up ensuring, if Cardinal Pell is successful in his appeal and retrial is ordered, that a permanent stay of proceedings occurs because it would have to be said that the post-trial publicity has been so intense and widespread he could not possibly get a fair trial before a Victorian jury again.

Now that Cardinal Pell is behind bars, no doubt his supporters and friends will be condemned for “reaching out” to him. If elements of the media and politicians condemn Cardinal Pell’s supporters for visiting him in prison, then once again another layer of civilisation will have been stripped from our community.

Every person in prison is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, irrespective of who they are and what a court has found they have done. This dignity includes being allowed to have visitors and supporters comfort them.

No person should ever be condemned for visiting a prisoner.

And this as a last word. It is disturbing to watch members of the community celebrating or expressing glee over the findings of guilt against Cardinal Pell. A criminal conviction is a heavy burden and never a cause of celebration, once again irrespective of who that person might be or what we think they represent.

Hobart barrister Greg Barns is a human rights lawyer who has advised state and federal Liberal governments.

This article was first published on Hobart’s Mercury website on March 4, 2019, and is used here with permission.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm