April 6th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The NSW election and our incredible shrinking farming sector

SOCIETY The pervasive and pernicious online porn epidemic

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coffers are full but Treasurer will take spending cautiously

OPINION Judge treats Cardinal Pell to a spot of 'open justice'

NATIONAL AFFAIRS NSW Liberals re-election gives a boost to Morrison

ECONOMICS The Great Dragon uncoils all around the globe

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS President Donald Trump: an unlikely promise keeper Part 2

REFLECTION On the conviction of Cardinal Pell

FICTION Orange Years: The Japie Greyling Story

TERRORISM Lessons from Christchurch

ASIAN AFFAIRS Xi's imperious play prompts U.S. to repair Asian friendships

YPAT Getting with the program: one young person's story

MUSIC To market, to market, to sell a good song

CINEMA The LEGO Movie 2: Building a world

BOOK REVIEW A template for living alongside the world

BOOK REVIEW Catholic Maryland and early tolerance



THE BUDGET Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

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Judge treats Cardinal Pell to a spot of 'open justice'

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 6, 2019

The sentencing of Cardinal George Pell to a term of imprisonment of six years following his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse of minors was telecast live across Australia and, in fact, around the world.

Justice of the County Court Peter Kidd

Chief Judge Peter Kidd said that the televising of the sentencing was in the interests of “open justice”.

He said: “In my view, the broadcast of my sentencing remarks is simply a clear demonstration of transparent and open justice and an accessible communication of the work of the court to the community of a case of interest.”

Immediately after the judge concluded, the most derogatory comments appearing in Judge Kidd’s lengthy judgement became headlines on television news programs, in newspapers and online. Cardinal Pell was described as “breathtakingly arrogant”, engaged in “breaches of trust and abuse of power”.

The judge added: “In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance.”

Judge Kidd was aware of the consequences of his remarks. He said to Cardinal Pell: “Irrespective of the means of the delivery of my sentencing remarks, I nevertheless accept that your ongoing notoriety will continue to be exacerbated by the deluge of publicity which will follow my sentence.”

However, I heard the uncontested evidence of over 20 witnesses, over two trials, who contradicted the version of events given by the single complainant.

This evidence, given at each trial over a period of nearly five weeks, was never reported in public. This was an indirect consequence of the suppression order that Judge Kidd put in place last September, ironically to ensure that Cardinal Pell received a fair trial.

Apparently the interests of “open justice” do not extend to making accessible evidence that contradicts the statements of the complainant.

The result is that the evidence of a single person has been adopted as factual, even though it has been contradicted by evidence from others who were present at the cathedral at the time the alleged offences occurred, and never challenged.

I am not the only person to have drawn this conclusion. John Silvester, a long-time crime writer in Melbourne, wrote: “Pell was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the uncorroborated evidence of one witness, without forensic evidence, a pattern of behaviour or a confession.”

He added: “It is a matter of public record that it is rare to run a case on the word of one witness, let alone gain a conviction.”

Tom Percy QC, a Perth silk writing in the West Australian, said: “I didn’t sit through Pell’s trial and I am not about to express any view on the evidence that supported or detracted from the conviction.

“But the history of the case does leave some concern as to the confidence that an objective outsider might have in the ultimate conviction.”

Mr Percy pointed out that the magistrate at the committal proceedings had dismissed out of hand a number of similar complaints against the Cardinal.

“Those allegations could have been resurrected by the prosecution by way of a direct presentment, that would have seen those allegations go to trial in the higher court despite having been dismissed by the magistrate. But, in Pell’s case, the prosecutors declined to resurrect them.

“Similarly, another trial that was scheduled to go ahead … involving a separate set of allegations by other complainants was discontinued by the prosecution on the basis that there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction,” he said.


The judge felt free to make what he called “reasonable inferences” regarding Cardinal Pell’s guilt, against the overwhelming weight of evidence heard in court, or the contrary evidence of Cardinal Pell’s good character, which he referred to in his judgement.

In my view, his comments – extensively reported in the local, national and international media – are both untrue and unfair.

Judge Kidd also said that “we have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell. I utterly condemn such behaviour. That has nothing to do with justice or a civilised society.”

I think his sentencing remarks added to just such a mentality.

The judge said that Cardinal Pell was a person of otherwise good character.

He said: “You have no prior convictions. Since this offending, you have not committed other offences.

“I have received a number of character references … from people who have known you for many years in various professional and personal capacities. They speak of a man who dedicated his life to service, in particular to vulnerable members of the community.

“They describe a compassionate and generous person, especially to those experiencing difficulties in their lives; someone who has a deep commitment to social justice issues and the advancement of education for young people. I note that these references were not challenged or contradicted by the prosecution.”

That being the case, does it not add to the conviction that a terrible miscarriage of justice has occurred, in which a man’s good character has been destroyed by unsupported accusations from a single accuser?

Cardinal Pell’s appeal will go to the Court of Appeal in June. We can only hope that common sense – and justice – prevails.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm