The full bench of the High Court of Australia has set a two-day hearing from March 11th to the 12th to hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal. The appeal is the last avenue in the appellate process to overturn the now-78-year-olds contentious conviction of five counts of historical sex abuse offenses, after his initial appeal was denied in a 2-1 decision.
Pell’s legal team led by one of Australia’s top lawyers, Brit Walker SC, is expected to argue that the court shifted the burden of proof to prove Pell did not commit the offenses, rather than the prosecution having to prove he did. They are also expected to argue the previous appeals court made an error in finding the jury’s guilty verdict was reasonable, as there was a demonstration of “reasonable doubt” he committed the offenses given the high level of activity, the lack of privacy in the cathedral’s sacristy where the offenses allegedly took place, and their reliance on the uncorroborated testimony of just one complainant.
Cardinal George Pell is currently held in solitary confinement in HM Prison Barwon, southeast of Melbourne where he was previously held in Melbourne Assessment Prison. Since February 27th of last year, he has been serving a six year sentence, allowed only one hour per day out of his cell.
Sources close to Pell say he is “in good spirits” and has “developed a personal ministry, writing back to other prisoners who have been writing to him about their lives.” He views his time in prison as “a yearlong, enforced ‘retreat,'” spent writing “mostly spiritual reflections.” Pell is allowed a limit of up to two visitors a week, and has not celebrated Mass since his imprisonment because prison officials won’t permit wine to be brought in. He remains “quietly confident” about the appeal hearing.
Experts believe Pell has a high chance of winning his appeal, as Justices Michelle Gordon and James Edelman did not hold a verbal hearing for additional information but granted his request for an appeal based on a review of written material only, despite the High Court only overturning around 13% of convictions.