Pell case goes to High Court

Protesters gathered outside the County Court earlier this year. (Photo: Fatima Halloum)

George Pell’s legal fight is still alive after the High Court said it would hear his appeal on his conviction on child sex abuse charges.

On Wednesday morning, the court granted special leave of appeal to Pell to challenge the conviction. This means he can make oral arguments in court, but also allows the court the wriggle room to not make a final ruling on the case if it so chooses.

This ‘special leave’ is not a common route for the courts to take, and as such caused some confusion as the highly anticipated announcement was made on November 13. Initial reports said the court had simply agreed to hear the appeal in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision.

This will be Pell’s final chance to appeal his conviction of child sex abuse charges from March this year, which was upheld by the Victorian Court of Appeal in June. If unsuccessful he will serve a minimum of three years and nine months in jail.

Pell’s lawyers made a 12-page submission of appeal to the High Court, arguing that the appeals court judges erred when they upheld the initial jury’s conviction by a majority of 2-1 in May.

Pell argues the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable” based on the evidence presented by the complainant and that the alleged offending could not possibly have occurred in a busy St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

However, the appeals court judges ruling in the majority, Justices Ferguson and Maxwell, upheld the conviction, stating they found the complainant to be “compelling and truthful”.

In dissent, Judge Weinburg said he was “unconvinced” by the evidence.

While it is not a final decision in the case, the High Court decision to take the appeal comes as a blow to abuse victims and advocates, including the father of one of Pell’s late victims, who penned a letter to the Pope regarding the church’s internal handling of Pell.

The High Court is expected to hear the case early in 2020.