It’s been almost two years since the historic charges laid on George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic Official to ever be publicly charged with child sexual abuse. He was convicted with one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child. The former financial controller of the Vatican has had his judgment handed down by Chief Justice Susan Keifel in an almost empty High Court room in Brisbane due to the social distancing measures placed by this coronavirus epidemic. The Cardinal has also been removed from Register of Child Sex Offenders. He has been released from Barwon Prison which is normally reserved for High Risk and Maximum-Security inmates, the High Court has now overturned his conviction. He stated after his release that “I hold no ill will to my accuser”.


He was Australia’s most Senior Catholic and in December 2018, convicted on five charges. The jury in the case had found him guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in the priest’s sacristy of St Patrick’s cathedral after Sunday solemn mass when during this time, he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. The victim claimed that Pell had corned them in the priest’s sacristy and forced them to perform sexual acts. There was no other witness on the alleged act and no physical evidence. This testimony was never released to the public due to protection of the abuse victims and was convicted by a jury of these acts. He also again, allegedly assaulted one of the boys only a few weeks later.

Both Counsel for Pell, Bret Walker SC and Victoria’s Director of Public Protection Kerri Judd QC had agreed in their submissions that the victims were a credible, believable witness. The second choir boy had passed away due to a drug overdose in 2014. There were separate criminal proceedings, based on allegations from multiple witnesses that he sexually abused them at the Ballarat swimming pool almost 50 years ago but was eventually discontinued by the Prosecution.

This examination of how the Victorian’s criminal justice system has allowed to proceed this far on the evidence while, according to the High Court, could not actually support a guilty verdict. Our team examined the verdict that was originally given to Pell. This was anaylsed in detail by Pell Defense to the High Court and was one of the pillars of its decision by the Court.

After his initial failure to appeal in August, his legal team had taken the case to the High Court. Throughout two intense days, the full bench of seven justices had heard arguments made by Bret Walker SC, who on his first appeal, was dismissed in 2019 by a majority of two-to-one. There was claims of it having unduly influence by the complainant’s testimony upon watching the recorded video rather than just reading the transcript of evidence.

The most recent appeal was based on two grounds:

  1. That both Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and Chris Maxwell made an error for requiring the George Pell to prove that the offence was “impossible” for reasonable doubt to be raised; and
  2. The judges had erred in concluding that the guilty verdicts given were not unreasonable, due to the findings were reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

It was also found that the testimony of the complainants was unfairly prejudicial to Mr Pell which the Court excluded pursuant to section 135 of the Evidence Act 2008 (VIC)

He was originally sentencing for a six-year prison sentence, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Cardinal Pell and the Church are also currently facing new civil charges by the abuse survivors.


“Today, the High Court granted special leave to appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria and unanimously allowed the appeal,” the summary of the Pell v The Queen 2020 judgment states the following:

The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.”

The current Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has spoken out and reminded the public on Pell’s claim of innocence and that today’s outcome

“confirms his conviction was wrong. I am pleased that the Cardinal will now be released, and I ask that the pursuit of him that brought us to this point now cease”


Our Principal Lawyer, Michael Moussa, has spoken previously of this matter in the today tonight show (in February 2019) and predicted the outcome. To watch this video, please click here

Michael had indicated early on that there may be grounds for an appeal in terms of a potentially unsafe verdict and the matter is likely to be finalized in 2020.


To apply to the High Court, you first need to apply for and be granted “Special Leave to Appeal”. For the most part, you can only do this if you are appealing a judgment from the Full Court of Criminal Appeal or a Court of Criminal Appeal in a State or Territory.

If granted, the Judiciary Act 1903 empowers the Court to consider any matter it deems to be relevant but primarily whether the judgment that is the subject of the appeal involves a question of law that is of public importance or resolving differences within or between Courts and whether the application is int eh interests of the administration of justice.

There are strict rules for making the application that are available on the High Court Website and the application is determined “on the papers”, meaning that no fewer than two of the judges will read and consider the merits of your application and you do not need to appear at that time. Once the judges have made their decision on the application, you will be given a time and place to appear.

Appealing any matter to the High Court is not always an easy task.

If you are involved in a complex criminal proceeding, it is always better to have a criminal specialist lawyer. Don’t do it alone, contact us at National Criminal Lawyers for us to advise you on any appeal process.

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