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High Court grants Cardinal George Pell leave to hear appeal on sexual assault convictions

Waiting: Cardinal George Pell.

CARDINAL George Pell has been granted a final chance to have his child sex convictions overturned after the High Court in Canberra agreed to hear his appeal.

The appeal before a full bench of seven judges is likely to take place early next year after the high court decision this morning, that there is sufficiently important legal principle to be heard.

The case will centre on a claim that an appeal court in Victoria wrongly required Pell to show “the offending was impossible”.

Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, Pell, 78, was found guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Five charges against him included sexual penetration of a child and four of committing an indecent act with a child. 

Cardinal Pell is now in Melbourne assessment prison, where he is serving a six-year prison sentence, although he will be eligible for parole in 2022, after he has served three years and eight months behind bars.

A statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said all Australians had the right to appeal a conviction to the High Court.

“Cardinal George Pell has exercised that right, and the High Court has determined that his conviction warrants its consideration,” he said.

“This will prolong what has been a lengthy and difficult process, but we can only hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as reasonably possible and that the High Court’s judgement will bring clarity and a resolution for all.”

In August, the Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Pell, in a two-one decision, that led to the High Court application.

Pell’s lawyer’s submitted a 12-page document to the High Court seeking leave to appeal on two broad grounds – the reversal of the onus of proof and that the verdict was unreasonable.

“The majority erred by finding that their belief in the complainant required the applicant to establish that the offending was impossible in order to raise and leave a doubt,” the application stated.

“In light of findings made by (the majority) there did remain a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any opportunity for the offending to have occurred.”

This view was supported in a 200-page dissenting decision written by Victorian Court of Appeal judge, Justice Mark Weinberg.

“Having had regard to the whole of the evidence led at trial and having deliberated long and hard over this matter, I find myself in the position of having a genuine doubt as to the applicant’s guilt,” Justice Weinberg wrote.

However fellow judges Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell found that Pell’s sole surviving victim was a credible, truthful witness.

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