Cardinal George Pell was released from Barwon Prison today after the Australian High Court quashed his convictions unanimously allowing his appeal.
The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the alleged offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.
In a statement, the bench said that, “on the assumption that the jury had assessed the complainant’s evidence as thoroughly credible and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt in relation to the offences involved in both alleged incidents”.
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,” the bench found.
Pell, who spent 400 days in prison for the alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old choir boy in Melbourne 1996, was the most senior Catholic official in the world to be charged with child sexual abuse.
He has maintained his innocence since being confronted with the allegations by Victoria Police in Rome four years ago, but a jury of 12 and Victoria’s Court of Appeal ruled otherwise.
Pell’s lawyers have argued the jury was wrong and the appeal court majority made a mistake when it agreed with his guilty verdict.
The appeal bid is based on two grounds – firstly that Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell made an error in requiring Pell to prove the alleged offending was “impossible” in order to raise reasonable doubt.
Secondly, his lawyers have argued the judges erred in concluding the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable, because of findings there was reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
Due to strict social distancing rules only three journalists were allowed into the court meaning there was no cheers or jeers when decision was announced.