I dag tidlig så jeg nyheten om at den australske kardinalen George Pell var blitt frikjent og satt fri av australsk høyesterett. Han hadde sittet 400 dager i fengsel (fått en dom på 6 år) etter å ha blitt anklaget for seksuelt misbruk av én person. Det fantes ingen ting som støttet denne anklagen, mens mange hadde vitnet om at handlingen aldri kunne ha skjedd slik den var beskrevet. Raymund de Susa skriver i National Catholic Register om dette og er ikke nådig når han beskriver det australske rettsvesenet. Han starter sin artikkel slik:
The unanimous decision by Australia’s High Court — equivalent to the Supreme Court — to quash the convictions of Cardinal George Pell is momentous for both Australian justice and for the Church, both in Australia and universally. About the Church, another column.
The acquittal of Cardinal Pell restores to an innocent man his freedom. There was no doubt at the High Court that a massive miscarriage of justice had occurred. Returning the verdict less than a month after hearing arguments, the seven justices eviscerated the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which 2-1 upheld the jury convictions on five counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
“The [Court of Appeal’s] analysis failed to engage with whether, against this body of evidence, it was reasonably possible that [the alleged victim’s] account was not correct, such that there was a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt,” the unanimous High Court wrote.
Which is to say, in plain English, that the Court of Appeal did not bother to ask whether the evidence was sufficient for conviction. “It failed to engage” the critical question: Did the mountain of evidence against the sole, uncorroborated account of the alleged victim require an acquittal on the grounds of reasonable doubt? It was, without a single dissenting voice, a devastating rebuke of the majority in the Court of Appeal, which ruled against Cardinal Pell.
The High Court Takes Extraordinary Measures
The High Court was so convinced of the wrongful conviction of Cardinal Pell — termed an “unsafe” verdict in Australian judicial parlance — that it handled his case in three unusual ways.
1) The High Court reversed a jury verdict. They did not find the process flawed and send the whole matter back for another trial. They determined that the only reasonable verdict was acquittal. Appellate courts are greatly deferential to juries. To flat out rule that the jury got it grievously wrong is rare.
2) The High Court did not limit itself to determining whether the Court of Appeal acted properly in applying the law. Rather, it gave itself the scope to examine all of the evidence from the original jury trials. Indeed, the High Court judgment reviewed in comprehensive detail the key evidence, step by step, from the trial. That is not usually what supreme courts do, but it did so in this case to demonstrate that it was simply impossible to convict “safely,” namely beyond a reasonable doubt.
3) The High Court moved with great speed. It was three weeks — lightning fast for a supreme court — from hearing the case to announcing that the judgment was ready. There is urgency when an innocent man is in prison, to be sure. But the speed of the verdict reflected the view of all seven justices that there simply was no case against Pell.