There is “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.” With these words, Australia’s Chief Justice Susan Kiefel finished the summary of the decision of the High Court of Australia quashing Cardinal Pell’s conviction on two counts of child sexual abuse.

The decision of the High Court, Pell v The Queen [2020] HCA 12 (7 April 2020), was a unanimous decision by the seven most senior judges in Australia. Their words should make it clear that the cardinal was not acquitted on the basis of some minor legal quirk, but on fundamental principles of law. In Australia, as in Britain, a defendant does not have to prove that they are innocent; a person is “innocent until they are proven guilty”. In every trial juries are told that the prosecution bring the charge and must prove it “beyond reasonable doubt”. In this case, the High Court was clear that on the basis of the evidence there was a “reasonable doubt”.

On December 11 2018, following a trial by jury, Cardinal Pell was convicted of five charges of sexual abuse involving two choirboys in Melbourne Cathedral on two occasions in 1996 and 1997, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. The alleged assaults were claimed to have occurred in the cathedral sacristy after High Mass said by then Archbishop Pell, when he was on his own and still robed for High Mass.  

Praise the Lord

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