Cardinal Pell appeals against sex abuse conviction

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell is appealing to have his conviction for child sexual abuse overturned.

The 77 year-old was sentenced last year to six years jail after a jury found him guilty of abusing two boys in 1996 while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

He must serve at least three years and eight months of his sentence in jail. He has remained in prison since his sentencing.

Pell has always said he is innocent and says the jury’s verdict is unreasonable.

The appeal hearing, heard by a three-judge panel from Victoria’s Supreme Court began on Wednesday. It was expected to take two days.

Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC filed an application for appeal against the conviction arguing it should be overturned on three grounds.

Firstly, he said the unanimous decision of the jury could not have risen to the level of “beyond reasonable doubt”.  Richter argued this is because of the unchallenged exculpatory evidence of 20 witnesses during the trial.

The second ground of appeal challenges trial judge Peter Kidd’s decision to exclude a video presentation by defence lawyers.

Richter said including the video would have illustrated the implausibility of the victim’s narrative to the jury.

It showed where people involved in Sunday mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral could have been in the church after the ceremony in which Pell is said to have abused the boys.

The third ground is a procedural appeal concerning Pell’s arraignment. Richter said his arraignment was not properly carried out in front of a jury, which was a “fundamental irregularity.”

He has since stepped back from the case, after speaking of his “disappointment and anger” at the jury decision to find Cardinal Pell guilty.

Sydney barrister Bret Walker SC ran the appeal, which is against the jury conviction only, not the length of the jail term.

If the judges find in favour of the first ground (concerning the fundamental injustice of the jury’s verdict) Pell’s conviction would be overturned and he would be released from custody.

A successful appeal on either of the other two grounds could result in a second trial for Pell.

In recognition of the high public interest in the case, arrangements were made to broadcast the appeal live from the Victoria Supreme Court in Melbourne, and will be accessible on the court’s website around the world.

The three appeal judges — Justice Anne Ferguson, Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg — were not expected to deliver an immediate decision at the conclusion of the hearing.

They will probably deliberate for several weeks before returning with a decision.

If Pell fails in his attempt to have his conviction overturned, he is likely to take the case to the High Court.

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