George Pell has been freed from prison, unanimously cleared by the High Court, thereby allowing the possibility of further jail time.
Today’s historic day was one notable by his absence, as George Pell was not in attendance at today’s hearing, nor was the greater media.
According to Melissa Davey of The Guardian, “because of COVID-19, journalists have been unable to fly to Brisbane to bear witness to the decision. Even if we were at the court, there would be no guarantee of a seat because social distancing requirements mean only a handful of people will be allowed in the courtroom.”
The commencement of the hearing was shrouded in confusion, as the High Court purportedly quashed the existing convictions of George Pell, thereby allowing an appeal, but before we could register what that meant, and why, the court’s website crashed.
The otherworldly nature of the decision is probably best defined by those present, as Ben Smee registered the decision barely heard around the room, but ultimately around the world. George Pell will be set free.
The most remarkable moment in the High Court, three people in the public gallery, and four gathered by the door to hear the faint voice of chief Justice Susan Kiefel say #Pell will be let free. No cheers or jeers. There’s no one else here
— Ben Smee (@BenSmee) April 7, 2020
The judgement took aim at the Court of Appeal in Victoria, which initially dismissed Pell’s appeal.
The judgement says while the Court of Appeal “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt”.
“The unchallenged evidence of the opportunity witnesses was inconsistent with the complainant’s account, and described: (i) the applicant’s practice of greeting congregants on or near the Cathedral steps after Sunday solemn Mass; (ii) the established and historical Catholic church practice that required that the applicant, as an archbishop, always be accompanied when robed in the Cathedral; and (iii) the continuous traffic in and out of the priests’ sacristy for ten to 15 minutes after the conclusion of the procession that ended Sunday solemn Mass.”
Today represents the conclusion of the legal process, meaning that the High Court has removed his original conviction, and thereby, guilt. The will be no further recourse.
George Pell will be released from Barwon prison as early as today.
More to come.