Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court in handcuffs. Picture: AAP
Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court in handcuffs. Picture: AAP

Pell’s last shot at freedom

GEORGE Pell's last ditch bid for freedom is set to begin in the High Court today.

Pell is serving a minimum three year and eight month jail term for the abuse of two choir boys at St Patrick's Cathedral while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the mid 1990s.

He has asked the High Court for special leave to appeal the majority Victorian Court of Appeal decision that upheld his five convictions.

Arguments will he heard from seven judges..

He has vehemently maintained his innocence, but any hope of proving that depends on whether special leave is granted.

In November the court refrained from ruling on the special leave application, instead taking the rare step of referring the matter to a full bench of the court.

Legal sources say the referral is a sign of the enormity of the case, which some have regarded as the most significant criminal prosecution in Australian history.

Sources close to Pell say he is feeling optimistic about his appeal prospects.

He is not alone. A survey of Melbourne's top legal minds agree, with the caveat that it would be foolish to predict how the High Court will act.


There are five possible outcomes for Pell.

If leave is not granted, there will be no appeal and Pell will remain in prison.

Alternatively if leave is granted, Pell will walk free if the appeal is allowed, but remain in jail if it is dismissed.

There is the option for the court to refer the matter back to the Victorian Court of Appeal, or for the court to ask for more information.

Both options are regarded as less than likely, as is the notion that case could be finalised today and Pell could be immediately freed from prison.

However such a move would not be unprecedented.

Last month the court released on the spot a man convicted of arson, after just two and a half hours.

Pell's case has been set down for two days with his legal team, and Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd, QC, each requesting four hours to articulate their arguments.

How long they get will be a matter for the court.



At the centre of Pell's case is that the jury verdict, when considered in light of all of the evidence, was not reasonable.

"No matter how favourable a view was taken of the complainant, it was not open to the jury, acting rationally, to conclude that the prosecution had eliminated all reasonable doubt," they argued.

"At the conclusion of the case, a remarkable evidentiary picture was left.

"A large number of undisputedly honest witnesses whose evidence was not challenged by the party who had the burden of proving the case beyond reasonable doubt - even where those witnesses gave effective alibi evidence."

Pell's legal team labelled the allegations "highly improbable … made decades after the event which contained features inconsistent even with the prosecution's case."

Another significant issue that could emerge, according to University of Melbourne law professor Jeremy Gans, is whether the Court of Appeal should have watched videos of the trial evidence, or relied solely on transcript.

Pell will not be in court for the hearing.