Tag Archives: Victoria Police

Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims & the legal system?

2 Jul

 

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they ‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced. It’s nothing more than opinion, and reveals the inability of the bystander to acknowledge any possibility other than his or her opinion.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

 

 

 

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In the Pell case, complainants have equal rights to justice.

30 Jun

 

Yesterday came the momentous news that Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple allegations of the crime of sexual abuse of children, following their investigation of complaints made by multiple accusers.

The matter is now sub judice, which means there can be no commentary on the charges and allegations, and no predictions of verdict. Sub judice does not forbid all commentary, and the above link is a guide to what may and may not be published. Please read the first couple of pages before leaving inflammatory comments that might be in contempt.

There is also an interim suppression order on the details of the charges, requested by Pell’s lawyers.

My thoughts are with those complainants who now face an arduous courtroom experience, during which our adversarial legal system will permit Pell’s lawyers to tear them to shreds. Already there has been much commentary from Murdoch hacks that the charges against Pell have been instigated by a vengeful and incompetent police force hell-bent on conducting a witch hunt. In other words, as far as Paul Kelly, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the other usual suspects are concerned, the complainants are liars and it is necessary to question police integrity. How this commentary is not flagrant abuse of the sub judice rule, I have yet to ascertain.

Much media coverage to date has focused on Pell’s right to justice. However, the complainants also have the right to justice. It is indicative of an almost entirely unexamined societal attitude that, particularly in sexual matters, the rights of the accused are likely to be the subject of greatest concern, while the complainants are, in the very essence of our law, obliged to prove they are not liars.

It’s amazing that Pell has been charged. In itself, this signifies an extraordinary change in societal attitudes to the sexual abuse of children, a change set in motion by the Gillard government’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, itself so fiercely opposed by several of those who yesterday claimed a witch hunt.

I have no idea how this will play out. Obviously, Victoria Police consider they have sufficient evidence to proceed. They have not assumed the complainants are liars. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be faced with such allegations, and the case has drawn global attention. For the sake of all concerned, most particularly the complainants, this situation must be allowed to run its legal course, whether you agree with the system or not. It’s the only one we’ve got.

Ive decided to add this astounding rant, published this morning by The Australian and written by Paul Kelly, as the site is pay-walled. 

In this momentous event, it is not just Cardinal George Pell who is on trial — it is the integrity of Victoria Police, the justice system and our capacity to deliver a fair trial.

There is no precedent for this situation. The most important Catholic leader in Australia since Daniel Mannix and close adviser to Pope Francis is being tried against allegations that Pell himself has perpetrated historical sexual offences.

This decision by Victoria Police comes after an unprecedented and manic campaign against Pell, leaks to the media, vicious character assaults in the mainstream media and grave doubts about the way police have conducted their inquiries.

The risk now is that the historic, unforgivable and appalling extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has taken yet another tragic turn — a show trial against the nation’s most senior Catholic figure. This is precisely what many people want.

The justice system must ensure it does not eventuate.

The issue here is not Pell’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations within the church — it is something entirely different; that Pell himself has engaged in sexual offences.

The decision to charge Pell is a shattering blow to the Catholic Church. The ramifications will last for years even if he is cleared.

The campaign of hatred against Pell transcends the deep and legitimate grievances of the victims and families. It is tied to the idea that Pell must be punished for the sins of the church and that this constitutes a form of justice for the victims.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, when venting his concern last month over whether Pell would get a fair trial, put the moral issue up in lights — the wrong done to victims of sexual abuse cannot justify a wrong being done in a witch hunt against Pell.

The case against Pell draws upon allegations of sexual offences by many complainants.

He has declared the claims are false. It is hard to believe these court proceedings will be finalised quickly. Whether Pell can receive a fair trial hangs in the balance. This is not just a trial for Pell and the church. It is a test of our institutions, our justice system and the culture of our civil society.

Convince me this isn’t written with intent to foul the Pell case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pell: nothing to see here, look over there

29 Jul

Pell on sexual abuse

 

Cardinal George Pell has, in the face of fresh allegations of sexual abuse of children aired by ABC TV’s 7.30 Report this week, demanded a “probe” into what he perceives to be a conspiracy between the Victoria Police and the ABC to “pervert the course of justice” using a “trial by media” to establish his guilt before the matters are afforded due process.

I’m calling bollocks. Everything aired thus far by ABC TV has come directly from the complainants, Pell’s alleged victims. We have watched them give excruciating accounts of their experiences, and the effects those experiences have had on their lives. There are no police “leaks” in these first-hand accounts.

Anyone is at liberty to speak about his or her experiences at the hands of another, and we have defamation laws that deal with false claims.

There is no indication that Victoria Police have provided the ABC with information other than that they are pursuing their inquiries into the allegations, and that the matters have been referred to the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions where it will be decided whether or not charges are to be brought against the cardinal.

There is no legal requirement to protect Pell from identification. There are no minors involved in the complaints: they are historical. The ABC has offered Pell every opportunity to respond, and have published his responses on their website.

As long as the law permits the identification of alleged perpetrators, media outlets are at liberty to name them. This may or may not be fair: it is legal.

Pell’s position is no different from that of any other alleged perpetrator of historical sexual crimes against children in this country. Such people are identified in the media, and their alleged victims are frequently interviewed by the media. Police announce that they are pursuing lines of inquiry, and charges may or may not be brought. The Cardinal isn’t being granted, and should not be granted, any special favours or protections, neither is he being unfairly pursued.

The fact is, people continue to make complaints about Pell, and these complaints have to be investigated. Our justice system does not require the complaints be kept secret until they are proven or dismissed.

Like any other alleged perpetrator, Pell has to endure public curiosity and judgement, not because of any conspiracy, but because that is how our society works.

There are no doubt many benefits that go with being a prince of the catholic church. There are also responsibilities and intense scrutiny. The Vatican has deep pockets and should Pell choose to bring a defamation action against his accusers, lack of money will be no barrier to that pursuit. The Cardinal has on more than one occasion threatened legal action of this nature. It is still an option open to him if he feels himself to be a victim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, now Cardinal Pell, you’re beginning to smell…

19 Feb

 

Cardinal Pell Three

 

It’s reported this evening that Cardinal George Pell is the subject of a twelve month investigation by Victoria Police over allegations of child sexual abuse, dating from the time he was a priest to when he became Archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell has issued a furious statement, demanding an investigation into Victoria Police leakages, and denying the allegations. The full transcript of this statement is in the above link.

In his statement Pell refers to an allegation of sexual molestation made against him in 2002, referred to as the Philip Island allegation. This series of alleged incidents with one complainant was the subject of a church inquiry, headed by retired Victorian Supreme Court Judge A.J. Southwell, who was selected and paid by the church to conduct the inquiry, within terms of reference set by the church. Southwell found that both Pell and the complainant appeared to be speaking the truth, and he could not find substantial grounds to proceed with the complaint.

Pell claims to have been “exonerated” by this inquiry, however a Sydney Morning Herald editorial saw it otherwise:

Mr Southwell’s conclusion is exquisitely balanced. He accepts “that the complainant, when giving evidence of molesting, gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection”. However, he says Dr Pell “also gave me the impression he was speaking the truth”. A significant part of Mr Southwell’s report concerns the standard of proof; because he considered what was alleged against Dr Pell as serious, he was inclined to apply a strict burden, akin to the “beyond reasonable doubt” of criminal proceedings. That helped Dr Pell. It also made Mr Southwell’s careful conclusion – that he could not be “satisfied that the complaint has been established” – rather less than a complete exoneration.

It’s not known if the allegations currently under investigation by Victoria Police include this one. They are referred to as “numerous” in initial reports, as well as having occurred throughout a considerable time frame, as Pell worked his way up the church hierarchy from priest to Archbishop.

Victoria Police have also issued a statement this evening, saying they do not comment on specific allegations.

In case anyone has forgotten how ruthless Pell has been in his pursuit of child sex abuse survivors who’ve attempted to obtain justice, it’s worth re-reading the John Ellis case in which Pell’s legal team managed to obtain the verdict that victims can’t sue the Catholic church (it doesn’t exist in law) or the trustees (who aren’t responsible for supervising priests) but only the offending priest (dead) or the offending priest’s supervising bishop (also dead). Pell also instructed his lawyers to pursue Ellis for costs.

Pell, confessor and mentor to sacked Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is now safe in the Vatican, beyond the threat of extradition treaties.

I wonder how those who leapt to Pell’s defence after Tim Minchin’s protest song are feeling right now.

Of course we can’t possibly comment on Pell’s guilt or innocence. It is interesting, however, that Victoria Police have seen fit to devote twelve months of their time so far, to investigating complaints.

 

Ummm....

Thanks to my good Twitter friend Comrade Nick for this image of Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter. Again, I can’t possibly comment. 

 

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