It took no more than a tweet from Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel, to deliver a massive defeat for the ‘guilt by accusation’ brigade who had so undermined the rule of law.
A unanimous seven justice ruling has restored that ancient and fundamental principle that the Crown must prove a criminal accusation beyond reasonable doubt.
Cardinal Pell has received the justice to which he was always entitled. As the Court said, with his conviction there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
That, of course, should never be tolerated for a minute in a civilised society. But it went on for over a year. And the Cardinal suffered, not even allowed to say Mass.
ABC Chairman Ita Buttrose should take note. It is about time she cleaned out the accumulated filth in her Augean stables.
In a last-ditch and grossly impertinent attempt to pressure the highest judges in the land into denying justice, just as they had previously tainted any jury, ABC Television scandalously rearranged its schedule to get in ahead of yesterday’s ruling and presented as new two old and unsuccessful complainants against Cardinal Pell.
That taxpayer-funded resources should be used not only for blatant political purposes but also to run a long, vicious and personal media trial is wholly unacceptable.
These abuses run counter to being a public broadcaster operating under a Charter, especially a network living a charmed and protected life in a time of considerable economic hardship.
By the most solid indeed impregnable of decisions, a full bench unanimous single judgement, the High Court has confirmed that the rule of law is henceforth to prevail again in Australia.
This the Court has done by restoring two of the fundamental manifestations of the rule of law, the presumption of innocence and that guilt be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
No longer will lower courts in Australia be tempted to succumb to the guilt by accusation brigade.
No longer may courts adopt such alien concepts as ‘(Always) believe the victim’.
The practice of some in the commentariat of assuming white heterosexual males — and especially Catholic priests — to be guilty is no longer tenable if it ever was.
Nor should a captured police force be allowed to advertise for complainants nor ever again wed to set up anything similar to a ‘Get Pell’ unit.
Nor should they be allowed to parade the accused daily through a threatening and baying mob.
Why was this daily outrage tolerated?
The unanimous decision leaves the majority two judges on the Victorian Court of Appeal, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell, intellectually and juristically alone like shags on a rock. Their judgement revealed an extraordinary misunderstanding of the criminal law.
Prudence surely required that before putting pen to paper they should have sought the sage counsel of their colleague Justice Mark Weinberg with his rich experience in the criminal law.
The Victorian majority judgement would have effected a fundamental change in the criminal law.
From their curious and superfluous viewing of the video they found the complainant so obviously truthful and his evidence so compelling that it would eliminate any doubt, which would otherwise be raised by the mass of exculpatory evidence, evidence favourable to the Cardinal, all called by the Crown and unchallenged.
To them, it was for the Cardinal to establish that any alleged offending was impossible. Hitherto the onus of proof was always on the prosecution; the Victorian majority had seemingly attempted to reverse this.
The High Court has rightly dismissed the entirely novel proposition that from henceforth the law has been reversed so that sex abuse complaints are to be treated differently from other criminal cases.
Those gleefully thinking that the Cardinal can now be persecuted through a slew of civil actions based on wild allegations should not assume that the Australian legal system would permit this with impunity, a point discussed here where we argued that reasonable doubt must be restored to the criminal law.
The important point is that in fighting for and gaining the justice to whom he was always entitled, Cardinal Pell has also rendered a signal service to the nation.
He should of course now be significantly compensated for the assault on his fundamental rights by the Victorian Police, the Victorian Government and the ABC as well as the old Fairfax capital city mastheads – particularly The Age – and The Guardian Australia.
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