I have followed the case of Cardinal George Pell with interest. Cardinal Pell, as many of my cherished co-Charioteers will know, was convicted last year of raping two boys at his cathedral in Melbourne. After the initial appeal was rejected 2-1, the High Court of Australia overturned his conviction 7-0.
The case of Cardinal Pell has been controversial to say the least. Speaking from a strictly legal standpoint, there was never really a case against him. There were some dodgy accusations, many of which were encouraged by the Victoria Police. However, outside of social media and a number of universities, accusations do not in and of themselves prove guilt.His conviction was based on the flimsiest of accusations and the squashing of far greater evidence proving his innocence.
For many decades the Catholic Church behave abominably. I would argue that it did so for centuries. Excuses could always be made, excuses could always be found for everything from near-genocidal conditions in 18th century California missions to selling babies in 1950s Ireland, against their mothers’ wishes to a global code of silence on sexual abuse of children.
It was sorely tempting, then, to cheer the fall of a senior figure — the third highest, in fact — in that most strange of institutions. But there is something else, something more important. Whatever the sins of the Church, Pell is still a man and is entitled to the presumption of innocence, due process and a fair trial. He was denied all three.
The more I learn of his trial, the more I suspect that there was more behind it. Cardinal Pell embodies things that many in places of power and influence in the Victoria Police, Victorian government and the establishment media hate. He is a religious conservative, a social conservative, a climate sceptic and a lead conservative figure in a most conservative of institution. He is also a deeply patriotic, proud Australian. God and country. Tradition and faith. You don’t necessarily have to like him or everything about him, but the attacks on him reveal some deeply disturbing things.
27 thoughts on “The Redemption?”
Mr Pell is an arrogant, up-himself example of what is wrong with so many “senior” clerics in many faiths, especially in the Roman Catholic distortion of religion – I am sure that Jesus himself would disown and probably defenestrate Pell at the first opportunity were he to corporally manifest, by chance, in the Melbourne CBD.
Pell was undeniably instrumental in many, many “cover-ups” of Catholic kiddy-fiddling by more junior clerics. There are so many reports by victims of Pell’s unsavoury behaviour in this field that I am sure they can’t all be telling porkies.
A Jury found him guilty. The Australian legal system, like the English system from which it is derived, is firmly based on centuries of belief that it is juries that decide guilt or innocence – not the judge.
The fact that the “high court” assembly of old judges – Pell’s mates? – has now let him off on the basis of some preposterous theory that prosecution counsel, police, witnesses, news media and even the dear old ABC were all biased and telling lies – is farcical, fit only for the Whitehall theatre, and it demonstrates that a Royal Commission into the judicial system in Australia is well overdue. Like the recent commission into the big four banks which showed the avarice, corruption and venality on which they were run – and probably still are.
Pell should keep quiet and attempt to atone for his many sins – but all we now see is hubris. A disgrace all round. ☹
I could go on . . . and I probably shall!
The presumption of innocence before trial must be maintained.
But, I find it hard to believe that any police force anywhere in the world would advise taking such a high-profile person to court without the belief that they had a solid case.
Nonetheless, even that does not allow the presumption of guilt.
By all accounts all those who were allowed to listen to the testimony of the ‘witness’ were convinced by his accusations.
But even that is not the point for me.
Like Bearsy, I find it very hard to accept that 7 people can overturn the judgement of the ’12 men, good and true’ who sat for days on end listening to all the evidence. I find it hard to accept that those same 7 people can unanimously overturn the decision of two members of their own judiciary.
If justice is done it must be seen to be done. And for those of us not privy to their ‘Lordships’ ruminations it seems that justice has not been seen to be done. It seems very clear that their decision was not taken after listening to the evidence presented in the original court proceedings – but on other ‘opinions’.
Like Bearsy I, too, find this to be a mockery of our judicial process. Why not dispense with a jury and just appoint a group of ‘learned’ man and women to review the evidence, without listening to witnesses, etc and then make a judgement?
It may well be that Pell is innocent of this particular crime. I don’t know. I wasn’t at the trial. But it should be noted that others, who have been reticent about coming forward before, have now made allegations which are being investigated.
George Pell is on open record of saying that his only concern in dealing with child-abuse was to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church. Parts of his testimony (when he finally deigned to return to Australia to testify) to the Royal Commission investigating such matters was redacted before publication lest it jeopardised his trial.
That the man can now brazenly say, as he has done since he has had his conviction quashed, that he is appalled about the way the Catholic Church covered up abuse tells me (and I suspect many others) just how low his sense of morality and truthfulness is.
There comes a time when one should stop ‘digging a hole’ – and I agree with Bearsy that it is time that Pell stopped trying to ‘justify’ himself, and thank his God (or rather the 7 judges) for delivering him from gaol – and crawl away.
B&B: I fully understand where both of you are coming from. Pell is no angel. I do, however, suspect that Pell was chosen to take the fall by the powers that be. It is bizarre that the Victoria Police, for example, advertised for people to come forward. It is also bizarre that there were many accusations made, but precious little behind them. Most were made after a witch-hunt of sorts was started. Memories are inherently unreliable and they can easily be manipulated — intentionally and unintentionally. That is why convictions based on eye-witness testimony, either exclusive or overwhelmingly, are very often overturned due to a lack of credible evidence. This was just another example of that.
In the last years, there has been a growing tendency to try to get people for something — whatever that is. Pell is a polarising figure, one who has many supporters and many detractors. He, like so many of his generation in the Church, allowed horrendous things to happen because they “were taught to think the best of people” — those are Pell’s words exactly. By 1950, people should have figured out that “thinking the best of people” is simply daft. By 1976, any notion of innocence should long have been discounted. That was when, within living memory, you had the horrors of the First World War, the genocides in Anatolia, the bloodshed of the Russian Revolution, the chaos of the Chinese civil wars, the Second World War, the government-imposed famines in Ukraine, the brutal was in South-East Asia, Algeria, Korea, Apartheid, etc. I’m too young and I largely went to secular schools, but my mother told me that when she was growing up, a priest suddenly being transferred or a teacher changing jobs regularly carried a certain “connotation” and everyone knew what it was.
There is much about Pell that is loathsome. But being loathsome isn’t in and of itself a crime. Wanting to punish a senior cleric for what he “should have known” or what he “should have done” doesn’t set that great a precedent. For too long credible accusations were either ignored or the perpetrators were able to hide behind their positions. That is, fortunately, a thing of the past but the pendulum shouldn’t swing too far in the other direction, either. The man is destroyed and his church is badly damaged.
I do start to question any argument when it begins with accusing ‘the powers that be’! Who are ‘the powers that be’ and why should they pick on one particular person rather than another?
In one way, I can understand why Pell might have been ‘picked’ on – he came across as a particularly cold character when asked about his role in the ‘Great Cover-Up’ which, as you rightly point out, has being going on for centuries.
I absolutely abhor the fact that so many people are accused, judged, condemned by the media and punished without due process of law. Why people think that using ‘#’ in a comment makes what they say factual is beyond me. Occasionally they are right – but each man has the right to defend themselves in a court of law before they lose their reputations and their livelihoods.
However, I disagree with those who fail to condemn Pell (et al) because the clergy are ‘taught to think the best of people’. It just doesn’t hold up. Quite apart from all the horrors that you quote – the evidence was there for anyone with the eyes and the willingness to see.
In country after country those at the top shut their eyes, refused to see, and passed the problem to another congregation. The system was rotten from the top down. The reasons why they did that are totally irrelevant; they failed in their duty both to their God and to their followers.
I do not understood why Pell was charged for the offences that he finally ended up in court for. He should have been prosecuted for being an accessory to crimes. That would have stuck.
I resisted commenting on this affair when I first read that Pell had had his conviction overturned. But I feel less constrained to do so now!
I certainly have not watched the case as closely as some, but I did have an opinion based on what little I had read. Having myself been an altar boy and sacristan (one who prepares the garments and other paraphernalia for the celebration of mass) I was familiar with the general procedures that might have been followed by the boys and the priests and bishops they assisted and I tried to imagine the circumstances in which any of the priests or even bishops that I served could have possibly found the opportunity to rape me and/or my colleague. I simply do not see it as being feasible. Even inappropriate touching would have been difficult. Of course, I was not there, but I was extremely doubtful that he had committed those specific crimes of which he had been accused.
During the 8 years I spent at a Catholic boarding school, I only had one minor incident that I would consider indecent behaviour. While it was wrong, it was minor and I would not support any conviction based on that incident alone. A reprimand would have been sufficient as far as I am concerned. And as far as I am aware that particular priest never had any other accusations made against him.That does not mean to say that nothing untoward ever happened. A friend of mine was at the receiving end of an inappropriate gesture by a priest. He responded by threatening to throw him down the stairs if that ever happened again. It did not. Many years after I left the establishment, a priest I had known and intensely disliked because of his liberal attitudes with regards to respect for seniority and traditions, discipline and his general undermining of authority, had been transferred to another school where he was caught abusing boys. He subsequently went to prison.
For the record, I remain in constant touch with over 40 former class mates via a Whatsapp group. The vast majority have remained married to the same wife and are good, solid contributors to society. They remain intensely loyal to their alma mater and to their school mates. There is almost no slagging off of the priests, and there were many of them, or teachers who oversaw us and if there is it is mostly with respect to their teaching methods and attitudes to discipline, or personal idiosyncrasies, such as a tendency to berate offending pupils in Latin.. The one person who I utterly despised and who did more disservice to me personally than anybody else was my Std 4 (I think that it is now Year 6) form teacher; a truly nasty woman. I mention it because of the enormous negative and lasting impact she had on me.
But back to Pell. He represents the Catholic Church and it has been clear for centuries that many, many people do not like that institution or the people who belong to it. No institution anywhere or at anytime has been without fault and the Catholic Church is by no means an exception. But it is important for people to realise that it is individuals within the institution who are at fault. Victoria Police is not a bad institution, but there are bad people within it, just as there are within the London Met, and the Conservative and Labour parties, the BBC, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, the Royal Navy and even Cricket Australia!
During the Brexit debate, there were many Remainers who appeared to be desperate to find evidence that that the British economy would suffer as result of leaving the EU. Every bit of bad news was almost cheered. Likewise, opposition parties leap on the Covid infection and death tolls so that they can point fingers at the President or Prime Minister for doing a bad job. It is the same with the #MeToo movement. Bad news is what they want. By the same token, I cannot help feeling that there are some who are so anti the Catholic Church that they would like Pell to be guilty because it would mean that he had raped those boys. Better that they be raped than he be wrongly accused.
Boadicea: I do know that the ABC were all too happy to cheer the anti-Pell witch-hunt. The ALP government in Victoria and the Victoria Police, heavily politicised since Andrews became Premier, were also only too eager to seek targets. It’s a paradox, really. In theory, Andrews is a practising Catholic — but his policies and attitudes are closer to those of Mario the Murder, I mean, Pope Francis than those of traditional Catholics. There has been a civil war of sorts in the Catholic church for some years now between traditional, conservative Catholics and “progressive”, left-leaning Catholics. This has grown far worse since Vatican II. The Catholic left, much like the secular left, have long been a minority but they are vocal well beyond their actual numbers. Andrews is a nasty piece of work and it wouldn’t surprise me if he used his power to try to take down a rival figure. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone on the left or the right did that.
I agree with what you said, that people should have known. That is why I brought up what my mother told me. Trier is, traditionally, an ultra-Catholic region. My mother was born in the early 1960s. Growing up in the 1960s-’70s, she knew, everyone knew, what was going on. Most people in the Church were decent and well-meaning, but there were a lot of dodgy people. My grandfather was a God-fearing man, but he enjoyed little more than taking the piss out of priests and he had no respect for their rites and rituals because he knew what happened behind the scenes. He was one of those honest arseholes. You might not have always liked what he said or did, but he would never lie and he had no time for liars, cheats or hypocrites. The collapse of the Catholic church in Ireland happened for obvious reasons. That is why I also do not accept his excuse. There was no excuse for being that naive.
I am critical of Pell for a number of reasons. He waded into politics when he shouldn’t have — the late 1990s. He was active in republican circles when, as a member of the clergy, he should have remained neutral about political subjects. He did set up a support system for victims of sexual abuse, but he also had his start in Ballarat in the 1970s when it was a notorious hotbed of sexual abuse. He could have said or done something, but he didn’t. He waited for decades to do “something”. Listening to his full interview with Andrew Bolt, I found him to be a man who was on the receiving end of a lot of nastiness, but a man who was also incapable of fully acknowledging his own nastiness and role in abuse. I’m at the lowest level of bureaucracy, but every year I have to take a training course on child abuse and neglect. It’s fairly basic, but it’s made clear that we are to under no circumstances turn a blind eye because “we want to think the best of people”. At the same time, he is still entitled to due process and I do think his conviction was a sham. Get someone, punish someone.
I have not followed the Pell affair closely, but from reading the comments of Charioteers it seems to have quite a lot in common with the “Nick” business. Scotland Yard, egged on by MP Tom Watson who at that time was deputy leader of the Labour party (shows what a scumbag he is), took at face value all the fantasy allegations of Nick. All the accusations of child abuse, even child murder in one case, were levelled at senior Establishment figures and Conservative politicians. Police raids were carried out on the homes of these elderly men, some of whom subsequently died still protesting their innocence. This innocence has since been proved, of course, but the whole affair made the last years of these men who had served their country for many years utterly unpleasant. Thankfully one of those smeared, former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, is now intent on suing Scotland Yard, whose current boss, Cressida Dick, didn’t come out of the subsequent investigation too well. Nick himself is now in jail and long may be remain there. I don’t remember whether Nick was responsible for the Scotland Yard raid, accompanied by BBC cameramen, on the home of Sir Cliff Richard, but that was another example of heavy-handed/booted policing with absolutely no evidence to go on.
Sipu: I’m an ex-Catholic who still has some affection for the Church. There is a lot to commend Catholicism. There is a refreshing consistency in Catholic theology. A lot of churches, especially mainline Protestant churches, have watered down their theology to the point that it’s meaningless. In some cases, they’ve watered down their theology to the point that they can scarcely be considered Christian any more than Buddhism can be considered Hindu.
There is no obligation to like the Catholic church or Catholicism. Nor is there any obligation to like people in the Catholic church. However… There has been a profound change in culture just within the past 20 years, at least in the West. Notions that would have been seen as comical 20, 25 years ago are now almost de rigueur. It’s almost shocking that people have lost their jobs because they donated to a cause that had overwhelming support even 15 years ago that’s become unpopular. Even if they also changed their positions on it, the fact that they once held a position that is no longer considered “acceptable” is enough to dismiss them. The Catholic church is one of the last unabashedly socially conservative institutions, in spite of the best efforts of Mario the Murderer. Those who would hound people out of their jobs in the private sector, when in government, are just as eager to try to punish dissent by any means possible including show trials or lawfare that might not get anywhere, but financially ruin opponents and destroy their reputations. It makes others think twice before stating any opinion at all unless it’s the “correct” one. Pell, because he is a deeply flawed vessel/damaged goods was a big, but very easy, target.
I am profoundly saddened by the brain-washed myopia demonstrated by Charioteers whose opinions I would usually be the first to respect.
For the sake of the great spaghetti monster, if no-one else, face up to the fact that the RC church has been practicing and condoning forced sex with minors for centuries, and that Pell is one of many, guilty as guilty can be of not being Christians but forked-tongued ‘sleepers’ for Beelzebub.
And preferably less of the thick opprobrium you’re spreading on the lefties, the police, the gub’ment, on atheists in general and the victims of religious crime; they are all better by a country mile than Pell and the Pope’s cohort of paedophiles.
By the way, Cressida Dick’s a good lass – one of our number has worked under her a while back, and was professionally impressed, I understand.
Bearsy: I have known many Catholic priests. Some were from Ireland, some were from Germany, some were from Nigeria, some were from the USA, some were from Australia, some were from Mexico, some were from England, some were from the Philippines. I have known nuns from Ireland, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Macau, Spain and Portugal. They were overwhelmingly decent, well-meaning people. Some could be criticised for their zeal, some were very much of the brimstone-and-hellfire inclination. But I have never met any who would condone sex abuse, least of all actually abuse anyone.
I have my issues with the Catholic church. I take issue, for example, with the pressure that many Catholic clergy put on people to stay in abusive relationships. I’ve seen that first-hand. I take issue with the notion that for the price of £10 a mass can be said on behalf of someone, as if that makes a jot of difference. I take issue with the notion that no matter how foetid or rancid someone’s soul is, a private confession to a priest who may or may not be a greater moral authority than anyone else and £50 for a few masses, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. I take issue with the fact that people can be as wretched as they bloody well please, but saying Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum.
Benedícta tu in muliéribus, et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus,
nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae somehow makes everything better.
I have also already stated my views on the church and its history. There was a lot that was rotten, but not everything. If you think that atheism is somehow more enlightened or ethical, well… The Soviets were more than willing to sexually abuse people under their control. In East Germany, they could do what they wanted to people and if they didn’t obey, they’d be destroyed. When there is no check on someone’s power, when people know that they can get away with almost anything, they will do it. “Lord of the Flies” is so powerful not because it’s far-fetched, but because we’re never more than a few weeks from it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Spanish frontier mission in 1790s California, a Soviet Gulag in the 1950s-’60s or a military campaign in some god-awful hellhole like Afghanistan. A lot of young women were used, abused and then thrown away by men. Xavier Herbert described that powerfully in “Capricornia”. People suck and many will abuse what power they have to get what they want if they think they can get away with it. The Catholic church is hardly free of blame and sin, but it cannot rightly be expected to bear the sins for all of humanity’s crimes.
Sheona: There is, I think, a desire to make someone pay for the crimes of the past. Certainly, those who committed crimes do deserve their day of reckoning. Those who are already gone do not deserve to be remembered favourably if they committed horrific crimes. What troubles me is that far too many people are only all too eager to let someone else take the fall for crimes that society, as a whole, was willing to turn a blind eye to either out of naive stupidity or blatant disregard for the victims. So long as the Catholic church is the whipping boy, those secular officials who were just as eager to engage in blatant abuse can be excused. It’s worth noting, for example, that one of the founding fathers of atheism — Karl Marx — had very little actual contact with the working classes, but one of the few he did, his maid, he sexually exploited.
If society can blame one or two institutions for all its crimes and sins, then it can assuage its conscience more easily. It’s not that human nature has its rotten sides and that there were guilty people from all parts of society, it’s that the Church is unusually rotten. If the Church takes the fall, the police who refused to investigate allegations can get away with a clear conscience. If an old priest belatedly gets his due justice, teachers who abused students at secular schools won’t be investigated as thoroughly as they should be. The BBC are just disgusting and I refuse to watch them. They’re no better than a lewd tabloid. I also refuse to take the police seriously. They go after priests because they’re easy targets, the BBC sensationalises Church sex abuse — but they cover-up grooming gangs. People rightly remember the crimes of the Ballarat of the 1970s, but they’d rather not ponder the crimes of the Rotherham of the 2010s.
Thank you Christopher.
A few thoughts on the legal aspects Pell case.
Firstly, Pell was tried twice , the first was declared a mistrial because the jury could not reach a decision. The second trial with a different jury resulted in a unanimous verdict of guilty. Pell was then given right of appeal to a higher court, that is the Supreme Court of Appeal on Victoria. The right of appeal is not automatic and usually granted on a point of law. Appeal courts exist primarily to examine the verdict and correct errors by the trial judge and the right of appeal ensures that, as far as possible, courts arrive at the correct decision. It is conducted by a panel of senior judges. Juries have no part to play in this process for obvious reasons. This appeal was dismissed. The reasonings for this are available on line.
Pell was then given leave to appeal to the High Court in Canberra, again on a point of law. So the High Court in Canberra by re-examining all the evidence and transcripts overturned the conviction. Again, the reasons for this decision have been made public.
“The Court of Appeal majority accepted that the sight of the applicant at close quarters with a choirboy might well have attracted attention. However, their Honours reasoned that the others in the corridor were intent on completing the procession and removing their robes as soon as possible. In this state of affairs, their Honours assessed that it was quite possible that the brief encounter went unnoticed. At all events, their Honours said, “the evidence once again falls well short of establishing impossibility”.
“The Court held 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.”
This once again demonstrates the difficulty in successfully prosecuting sex abuse cases which are historic, not current. Very few are brought to court and most of those result in a verdict of not guilty. Lack of corroboration of even credible witnesses, or opportunity do not guarantee a conviction.
With regard to the jury system, two juries return two different verdicts. Having served on two juries in the past it’s no easy task to truly evaluate facts or evidence. To select an impartial jury is also difficult in the case of someone like Pell.
I too dislike trial by media and the media in some instances, like many who comment on social media , do not always bother to read the court judgment. I have no idea if Pell is guilty or not, but in this case I am of the opinion that justice has been done.
With all due respect to my ‘learned’ charioteers who have determined that ‘Justice has been done’ in the Pell trial, may I point out that not one of them, like me, were present at the original trial and, therefore, have no knowledge of the evidence presented at that trial that caused a jury to give a Guilty verdict.
Let me make my position quite clear.
I have no time for police investigations into ‘historical’ crimes against individuals. Should I expect the police to track down the many men who pinched my bottom, made lewd comments and suggestions to me as a 14 year-old waitress in the Political (Liberal and Conservative) Clubs in London in the late 1950’s? Of course not. I learnt very rapidly how to deal with them. High heels are very useful weapon… and a splash of hot soup ‘accidentally’ dropped on a lap is an extremely good deterrent to any future ‘abuse’ … I did not underestimate the intelligence of the male of the species in understanding my not-so-subtle response to their unwelcome attentions – it worked.
Do I have any time for those actresses who are now screaming about ‘casting couches’. No I do not. I’ve yet to hear those who made it to the top complain… women like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and others like them. As far as I’m concerned those who are now complaining should accept their responsibility for trying to ‘buy’ parts in future productions.
However, I do expect the law to investigate institutional offences – and all individuals within those institutions who allowed such abuses to continue and to be concealed. Without investigation all those institutions and their members will continue to ‘cover up’ those crimes. That is not acceptable.
We all accept that most people in a any institution are good and worthy people. But some are not – and they need to be exposed and prosecuted – publicly.
I am more than a little tired of the argument that ‘other people’ or ‘other institutions’ have done worse. That is totally irrelevant. Were we to accept that way of thinking only murders with torture would ever be prosecuted. Any ‘lesser crime’ would be deemed forgivable – because other crimes are ‘worse’. What utter rubbish.
Going back to the Pell case…
As I said at the beginning – not one of those now pontificating on this case are privy to the evidence given at the trial. That the first Court of Appeal agreed with the verdict should say something – and that so many do not agree that the High Court overturned the verdict of a jury and the first Court of Appeal says that we do not trust the decisions of the High Court.
At this very moment here in Australia a man is insisting on his right to be tried by a jury rather than by a panel of Judges. I can’t actually remember quite where that is – but where ever it is that particular State has has suspended the right to be tried by a jury due to social-distancing regulations.
I never want to see a situation where the basic right of anyone to be tried by his / her peers is overturned by a selective group of people who have not listened to all the evidence.
Justice must be done – but it must also be seen to be done – and in this case none of us here in Oz have been shown why, in the case of Pell, that it has been done.
Hi Boa, I won’t pursue the Pell case, but I would like to raise the point about a person’s right to be tried by his peers. The emphasis, I think should be on the word ‘peers’, in other words, people of equal standing within his community.
In the case of a middle class, white, nominally Christian, male professional, for example, accused of committing a ‘white collar’, crime it is, I think, far more likely that a jury composed of fellow middle class professionals, will reach a less biased verdict than one comprising underprivileged, working class individuals who perhaps are descended from immigrants some of whom belong to different faiths. By the same token, I think the reverse would be equally true, where the crime might be one theft or assault for example. Or, consider a farmer accused of laying snares to trap vermin. That person should be tried by fellow farmers, not by a graduate student living in a high rise flat in Tower Hamlets.
The truth is, juries are very rarely composed of peers of the defendant, they are usually tried by a random cross section of citizens and I am sure a great many unjust verdicts have been reached as a result of various forms prejudice and bigotry on the part of the jury. People of similar class, education and background, will not want to besmirch the reputations of their community and professions by reaching a verdict that is fundamentally flawed. They will better understand the various pressures, impacts, consequences etc. associated with the accused and the crime, than somebody who is distantly removed from that environment. And maybe the wrong conclusions will be reached, but at least it will be reached by the people who belong to the same community.
Having said that, I think there will be cases where, a community will protect its own, because the damage to it caused by a guilty verdict may be greater than that caused by releasing the criminals back into it. Take for example the Pakistani grooming gangs. While I am sure that most members of that Pakistani community in Rochdale would be horrified by what took place, they would be equally horrified, perhaps more so, by what the damage of a guilty verdict would do to them as a whole. Conversely, the community of the victims would be potentially so full of a desire for vengeance that they too are quite likely to engineer a verdict based on prejudice rather than justice.
In such cases, I would be inclined to disallow a trial by jury but rather have a panel of professional jurists.
I wonder what others think.
All that aside, it has been said that if you are guilty and have the choice you should elect to be tried by a jury. But if you are innocent, you should elect to be tried by a judge or judges.
As another aside, I only learned recently that Scottish juries have 15 players.
Again, just commenting on the legal aspects.
“I never want to see a situation where the basic right of anyone to be tried by his / her peers is overturned by a selective group of people who have not listened to all the evidence.”
I’m slightly confused by your second mention of a “selective group of people” who haven’t listened to all the evidence. Are you querying the whole process and function of the various Courts of Appeal in the legal system?
Appeal judges had full access to trial transcripts including witness statements and video recordings, They also have full access to detailed judgments in respect of decisions of lower appeal courts. The judgment delivered by the High Court in Canberra is comprehensive and detailed all the key aspects on which their decision was based. It’s available to read by anyone who cares to look it up. I skimmed through it before writing my earlier comment. It is also horribly long and extremely tedious to read! But then I’m not a lawyer.
On the subject of the highest court in the country overturning the verdict of guilty from jury, it is highly unusual! I’m sure there is a precedent but it almost never happens in the UK. Most appeal courts in most legal jurisdictions are very unwilling to possibly undermine the function of the jury. Perhaps to me, it indicates the seriousness of the comment from the the judges: ” there is a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted.”
So, finally, lawyers may disagree with the verdict in the Pell case, but having read through the various judgments one can have an opinion, not of guilt or innocence, but how and why it was not a sound conviction, and why it was overturned.
I’m not sure Boadicea, how justice can be better “seen to be done”, except by televising the entire proceedings !
PS. This is my final contribution to the legal aspects of this case – it’s rather time consuming reading all these legal documents even in lockdown! Apologies for the various errors in punctuation and etc., I always forget that I can’t edit comments on the Chariot. I’m far too used to my own WordPress site and the Creative Writers site where I am able to do so.
There are a number of reasons why the verdicts of a journey not only should be overturned, but they must be overturned. This is especially so in instances when a conviction was based heavily, if not entirely, on eye-witness testimony. In Avery v. Wisconsin, for example, the US Supreme Court eviscerated eye-witness testimony for being hopelessly unreliable. According to Civil Liberties Australia, 7pc of people convicted in Australia are innocent. One of the most infamous examples of a wrongful conviction in Australia was of Ronald Ryan, the last man to be executed in Australia. A jury found him guilty, but that was later proven to be incorrect. The UK isn’t free of that, either. The Birmingham Six come to mind, the case of Raphael Rowe is another that comes to mind. Jury trials are fallible. Jurors are fallible. The justice system is fallible. The reason why appeals courts exist is for that very reason. Of course, some people manage to get off on technicalities. For example, the monumental incompetence of Adam Schiff resulted in the FBI having to go to trial thrice in the case of Richard Miller. The first was because the FBI’s air-tight case was badly mishandled by Schiff resulting in a mistrial, the second was because Schiff mishandled evidence yet again so the conviction had to be overturned on a technicality. But… On many occasions, people were wrongly convicted based on faulty evidence. There is the case of Nora Wall whose conviction was based on faulty “memory reconstruction”. The alleged crime never took place, it was constructed as a false memory. I admit that I’d be hell as a juror. It would be virtually impossible for me to convict anyone because I have little confidence in the police or justice system. It is also why some visible minorities are only all too happy when one of their own “beats the system” simply because far too many have been either wrongfully convicted or sentenced unusually harshly.
One can never convert the ‘already converted’ – so I really should ‘save my breath to cool my porridge’ as my grandmother used to say…
… and I’m just as convinced of my opinion as any one else!
Sipu: You seem to be unaware of the process of ‘selecting’ juries here in Oz. It is much the same in the U.S. and I would not be surprised it were not the same in Zimbabwe. I don’t know about the U.K. but I suspect it is much the same since Oz, the U.S. and Rhodesia originally derived their judicial systems from the English legal system.
The courts do not just pick 12 random people to make up a jury and that’s that. Both the prosecution and defence can object to a certain number of potential jury members – and they do and those people are rejected. The usual reason is that they consider that those people will be biased. A jury thus selected should be fairly unbiased to either side.
My feeling, which I suspect is much the same as many other dissatisfied people here, is that the original trial did consist of a fairly ‘random’ unbiased group – whereas the 7 judges who found Pell ‘Not Guilty’ were biased in that they were people in same upper echelon of society in which Pell moved.
Araminta: I haven’t read the reasons why the verdict was overturned and I admire your fortitude in doing so – even if you skimmed it!
From what was published here – it seems that the original judgement was overturned because the Supreme Court did not believe the evidence given.
This brings me to Christopher. The evidence in this particular trial was not given by an eye-witness – but by one of the victims. And that is a very different scenario from all the cases you quote.
If victims are not to be believed (and I don’t think that all those who portray themselves as victims are necessarily victims) then there is no point in any such trying to seek justice. By all accounts, all those who listened to this particular victim were convinced of the truth of his evidence. I don’t know I wasn’t in the court.
Suffice it to say that others are now coming forth.
“From what was published here – it seems that the original judgement was overturned because the Supreme Court did not believe the evidence given.”
Actually that wasn’t the case, they found the victim’s version of events entirely credible and made that point very clear in their judgment. It seems that it was simply the fact that it was in was uncorroborated plus the evidence overall presented by the prosecution was not sufficient to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Regarding jury selection in the UK, I can only speak from my experiences some years ago, but it is random. Both the juries I sat on were very different in composition as regards education, age and occupation. Each juror is asked to confirm they have no bias in respect of the nature of the crime etc. It’s all a bit hazy but that’s all I remember. Yes, there is a right of challenge but it in no way resembles the American system where jury selection can go on for days!
Hi Boadicea, actually this country has Roman Dutch law, in line with South Africa, which was a concession the British made to the former Dutch/Afrikaans colonies. So, we do not have a jury system, just a corrupt judge or panel of judges. I would not exactly say it was a ‘crap shoot’ here with regards to justice; if you are prepared to pay enough, you can buy it.
I am aware from the novels of John Grisham, that the US has jury selection, but that strikes me as being a pretty corrupt process, though I am certainly not qualified to say. But regardless of the rights of defence and prosecutors to object to certain jury members being on the panel, I suspect that the majority, in many cases, would not be considered ‘peers’ of the defendant.
If I were up in front of the British courts, I would challenge the right of any jury to try me on the basis that I have no peers. I am not convinced that tactic would work, which just goes to show how flawed the system is. 🙂
Sipu, if you were tried for a crime in the UK, you could elect not to be tried by a jury. In fact the majority of crimes are heard by a panel of magistrates. More serious crimes are tried by higher courts where it is your right to be tried by jury but you could choose to be a heard by a panel of judges.
Sipu: Gresham wrote legal thrillers. Naturally, he would focus on the salacious and extraordinary. That is what makes his stories so gripping. The day-to-day reality is rather more mundane. I’ll skip the technical jargon and just get into the substance. During jury selection, both the prosecution and defence have the right to dismiss potential jurors. There is a stage when potential jurors are dismissed without reason being given, then there is a stage in which potential jurors are dismissed for cause. In general, the judge asks before the first stage is even reached if a potential juror is a close relative of a police officer, knows anyone involved with the trial personally (beyond distant acquaintance, in some rural areas, it’s virtually impossible not to be at least very casually acquainted with someone involved in the process) or has some personal involvement/knowledge of the case. For example, if someone goes to trial for manslaughter, the nurse who attended the victim is probably not a good person to have sitting on the jury. Nor would the spouse of the defence attorney. Potential jurors are expected to introduce themselves by name, age and give some details about who they are in order to determine if they are suitable. For example, a full-time civil rights activist/community organiser might not be a preferred candidate for the prosecution when the defendant is African-American. Likewise, a well-respected policeman’s grandson who read law and is involved in police charities might not be deemed favourably inclined by the defence.
A jury must simply comprise people of solid mind resident in the area where a crime took place — unless, due to notoriety, the trial is moved to another jurisdiction. There is no legal requirement that, say, the jury at a trial for an African-American woman comprises African-Americans or female jurors.
Minty: In the US, you can also request a trial by judge rather than jury. If the defendant waives right to a jury trial, there is no obligation to provide one so long as it was done voluntarily and at the instigation of the defence.
Your comment made me chuckle no end!
The witness was ‘credible’ – but because the action was ‘uncorroborated’ it was not deemed to be sufficient to convict… so let’s blame it on incompetent prosecutors!
The message from the Final Court of Appeal was heard loud and clear throughout Australia. If there are no witnesses to corroborate your accusation of molestation, rape or otherwise it does not matter how ‘credible’ your evidence is – you have no case – so don’t bother to complain.
The comment from the High Court that the witness’s evidence was credible was seen as a sop to placate all those who realised that overturning the first two courts’ judgement would mean that those who had suffered abuse, were credible but had no corroborating evidence would never receive justice.
Sounds like the jury system in the UK is much as it is here and not at all like the long-winded contentious process in the US.
Thanks for the clarification. I mistrust ‘Roman’ law at all levels. Unfortunately, I think you are right that if you can pay enough you can get the ‘justice’ you want wherever in the world you are.
Yes, pretty much what happened, Boadicea. In effect the High Court judgment implied that it should never have come to trial in the first place. But I don’t think it was a sop, so back to what I wrote in my first comment:
“This once again demonstrates the difficulty in successfully prosecuting sex abuse cases which are historic, not current. Very few are brought to court and most of those result in a verdict of not guilty.”
The situation is the same with regard to historic rape cases. The victims are frequently the only witnesses, credible or not, and there is little or no evidence. Given a presumption of innocence then it’s hardly surprising given due process that a conviction would be deemed unsafe. Taking into account the possibility of malicious accusations then it preferably to consider the other safeguard to be remembered, the possibility of convicting an innocent person.
No legal system is perfect, some of the guilty do escape punishment, but in my opinion the possibility of being deprived of one’s liberty based on the uncorroborated statement of one witness is much worse.
I pass no judgement of those comments above, but I do recommend a damn good read that describes the current Criminal Justice system in England and Wales. The Secret Barrister – Stories of the Law and How it is Broken.
As someone who has worked in the Criminal Justice system for the last 26 years, I found it frighteningly accurate and depressing in it’s honesty. It is written by an anonymous practising criminal barrister and uses real life examples including a case in which I had a tiny hand. It demonstrates that although we are lucky to live in a country where corruption isn’t the norm, it is a system that is entirely broken and pure luck as to whether one gets justice – from either side of the courtroom.
Meanwhile, jury or magistrates if charged with a criminal offence? Neither, thank you!
(I do agree with Ara’s last comments about uncorroborated allegations. Historic offences and sexual offences are notoriously difficult to prosecute – but we should still try our utmost)
Hi Cuprum. Yes, I agree with what you say about the Criminal Justice System here. It’s a mess! I haven’t read the book by The Secret Barrister but I subscribe to his blog site and have done for years.