Disgraced Cardinal George Pell is set to become a free man once again today, with the Australian High Court quashing his sexual assault conviction.
It was in 2017 that Pell was first charged with multiple historical sexual assault offences, following on from allegations made against him some years earlier. In late 2018, Pell was found guilty on five charges and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison of March of 2019.
Though Pell’s trial was shrouded in controversy, due in part to a suppression order placed upon coverage of his conviction, an appeal was heard – and subsequently dismissed – by the Victorian Court of Appeal later in the year, before it appeared before the High Court of Australia just last March.
Now, public outcry has emerged following news that the High Court has officially quashed Pell’s conviction, allowing him to walk free from Barwon prison after more than 400 days behind bars.
Though Pell was not in attendance at the Tuesday morning hearing, a copy of the judgement summary reveals the High Court found that the “jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.”
“While the Court of Appeal majority assessed the evidence of the opportunity witnesses as leaving open the possibility that the complainant’s account was correct, their Honours’ analysis failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt,” the judgement noted.
“With respect to each of the applicant’s convictions, there was […] “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.”
BREAKING: George Pell responds to High Court decision. This is his first public statement since being jailed. #pell #auslaw @theheraldsun pic.twitter.com/uJO0nHbB0s
— Shannon Deery (@s_deery) April 7, 2020
“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice,” said Pell in a statement released soon after the ruling. “This has been remedied today with the High Court’s unanimous decision.
“I hold no ill will to my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough. However my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.
“The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not,” he continued. “The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”
The High Court of Australia is not expected to share any further details regarding to the quashing of Pell’s conviction, though it remains to be seen whether Pell himself will issue a further statement upon being released.