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Court grants Pell last chance bid for freedom

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Catholic Cardinal and convicted paedophile George Pell has been granted a last-gasp bid for freedom after the High Court agreed to hear appeal arguments against his child sexual abuse conviction.

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Justices James Edelman and Michelle Gordon today agreed to refer the matter to the full court “for argument as on appeal”.

The hearing is expected to be held before five or all seven High Court judges, with March next year said to be the earliest possible date.

Pell, 78, was jailed for six years for sexually assaulting two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral while Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

His first appeal bid failed in August when Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld the five convictions in a 2-1 decision.

A spokesperson for Pell declined to comment today, given the matter is still before the courts.

The surviving choirboy also did not want to comment.

“The appeals process is a very important part of the checks and balances of the criminal justice system,” his lawyer Dr Vivian Waller told AAP.

“Both my client and I are deeply respectful of that process. We will await the outcome of the appeal.”

The father of the second Pell victim, who died aged 31 from a drug overdose, is devastated, his lawyer Lisa Flynn said.

“He was really hopeful that this would be over for him today because as the process goes on, and has gone on for some time, it is extremely re-traumatising for him,” she told reporters in Brisbane.

“Every appeal that is announced by Pell is a downturn. It brings up the raw emotions.”

It is understood Pell’s lawyers told the former Vatican treasurer about the High Court decision in person today.

The High Court did not formally grant or refuse Pell’s application for special leave to appeal, instead referring the matter to the full court.

After the hearing, the court could refuse the application for special leave, or approve it and either allow or dismiss the appeal.

The referral was basically the same as a grant of leave, Jeremy Gans of the Melbourne University Law School said.

“A majority of the justices will decide which side wins,” Professor Gans tweeted.

Prof Gans said a referral, instead of a grant of special leave, was rare and the court never explained why it made that decision.

“And it never seems to matter. But, for what it’s worth, it means that the court has not yet decided that the case is actually worth deciding, just that it’s worth hearing. Go figure.”

Australia’s most senior Catholic has always denied any wrongdoing.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the appeal “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 judgment will bring clarity and a resolution for all,” he said.

The father of the dead victim has written to the Vatican to express concern about the church’s failure to take proper responsibility and action after Pell’s convictions.

“Our client does have questions of the Catholic Church in terms of why they continue to support George Pell even though he is a convicted child sexual abuse offender, and why they are not throwing that support behind victims,” Flynn said.

The Pope has previously said he would wait for the legal process to run its course before commenting.

– AAP

 

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