Wed, 6 Mar, 2019Courtney Allan

The 3 factors that could see George Pell freed

The 3 factors that could see George Pell freed

Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of child sexual abuse, but a new appeal by his lawyers could see this conviction overturned.

Pell’s lawyers have filed three grounds for his appeal based on the evidence that’s been relied upon to convict Pell of the charges.

University of Sydney Professor David Hamer is an expert in evidence law and does not have detailed knowledge about the case. However, he spoke to about some of the legal aspects of the case.

1. Will the first mistrial be used as evidence?

Some people think that as the first trial was unable to reach an unanimous decision as to whether or not Pell was guilty could play in his favour. However, Hamer doesn’t think that the appeal judges will take this into account when assessing the verdict of the second case.

“There isn’t much scope for the court to consider this,” he said.

“They will focus on evidence presented at the trial and whether a reasonable jury would have convicted him.”

2. Is the use of video evidence significant?

Footage of Pell’s complainant giving evidence was recorded at the first trial and played to jurors of the second trial.

This is a new occurrence in the courts, which allow complainants in sexual abuse cases to record their testimony, so they don’t have to relive the traumatic experiences. It can also be intimidating to be cross-examined.

Hamer said: “This suggests the evidence in the two trials was very similar, but it’s still unlikely the appeal court would consider the mistrial in its decision”.

3. Was the decision unreliable?   

Pell lodged his appeal based on three grounds, including that it’s “unreasonable” to convict him based on the testimony of one victim.

The first appeal ground has said: “The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence … it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone."

The second ground is that there is a “fundamental irregularity” in the trial process as Pell was unable to enter a not guilty plea in front of the jury.

The third ground is that his defence lawyer should not have been stopped from using a “moving visual representation” in his closing statements.

Hamer said this case will be difficult as it’s a word against word case with Pell. Instead of the case being about complicated legal questions to consider, this is more about who is more credible: the victim or Pell.

Hamer said: “Appeal courts don’t like to assess credibility. That’s why we have juries — to assess credibility.”

Hamer also said that even if the appeal judges do come to a different verdict, they could be reluctant about overturning the conviction.

“They may say, ‘Why should our opinion be valued over and above 12 members of a jury?'”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.