The High Court Judgment In The Cardinal Pell Case

There has been significant media attention regarding the Cardinal Pell judgment of the High Court earlier this year. You can read a summary of the judgment here (link to High Court summary

Cardinal Pell was found guilty by a jury after trial in Victoria. He appealed against his conviction to the Victorian Court of Appeal. His appeal was run on the basis that the verdicts of the jury could not be supported by the evidence. 

The trial itself involved the complainant giving evidence, as well as several witnesses who testified about the usual practices and routines after Sunday Mass. The incidents alleged were said to have occurred shortly after Sunday Mass and the movements of people were relevant to determine whether there was an opportunity for the Cardinal to offend in the manner alleged.

The Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

Cardinal Pell went on to appeal to the High Court. The High Court determined that even if the complainant was found to be credible and reliable, the evidence of the other witnesses regarding movements after Sunday Mass still required the jury to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to whether the offending occurred.

The Cardinal also relied on the fact that to accept that the first offence occurred, required finding that:

  1. Contrary to his usual practice, he did not stand on the steps of the Cathedral after Mass to greet congregants for ten minutes or longer;
  2. Contrary to long-standing practice, he had returned unaccompanied to the sacristy in his vestments;
  3. No other person entered the sacristy in the five or six minutes that the complainants were in the Cathedral and until the end of the alleged offending;
  4. No one saw or took action to stop two robed choir boys leaving the procession and going back to the Cathedral. 

The points above demonstrate that the evidence as a whole was not capable of excluding a reasonable doubt. The High Court said that there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the reasonable standard of proof” and, accordingly, the convictions were quashed and judgments of acquittal entered. 


How Can I Appeal My Criminal Conviction In Western Australia?

Any person who is convicted or found guilty of an offence after trial has the right to lodge an appeal against that conviction.

Depending on which court your matter was heard in, there are different procedures for an appeal. For example, if you had a trial in the Magistrates Court and a Magistrate found you guilty after trial, you can lodge an appeal in the Supreme Court where a single Judge will hear your appeal. If, however, you stood trial before a Judge and jury in either the District Court or Supreme Court, you can file your appeal with the Court of Appeal, where three Judges will hear your appeal.

The High Court of Australia also hears appeals from State courts, including the Court of Appeal of Western Australia. 


Can I Appeal My Conviction If I Think The Magistrate Or Jury Got It Wrong In My Case?


Technically, yes, you can appeal a conviction if you say the jury got it wrong. However, you must be able to demonstrate that the Magistrate or Judge made a wrong legal decision, or that jury was given the wrong directions of law by the Judge, or that the evidence as a whole did not support a guilty verdict. In some cases, there may be several grounds of appeal.

It is important to note that an appeal is not a second go, or an attempt to try to run your case again because you feel it didn’t go well the first time. The court determining your appeal is concerned with whether something went wrong in your trial as a matter of law. That means you must give proper consideration to the grounds of appeal in your case, and whether there is merit in running an appeal at all. 

If you win your conviction appeal, your matter will usually be sent back to the first court before a different Magistrate or Judge for a retrial. In some rare circumstances, your appeal can result in an acquittal.

It is important to seek legal advice about your prospects of appealing because, if not done properly, the court can dismiss your appeal and you may need to pay legal costs of the prosecution.


How Long Do I Have To File An Appeal?


There are deadlines that apply to appealing your case. If you have been found guilty in the District Court or Supreme Court, you have 21 days to file an appeal from the date you are sentenced. If you are found guilty in the Magistrates Court, you have 28 days to file an appeal from the date you are sentenced.

It is possible to appeal outside of that timeframe, however, you will need to explain to the court why you have not appealed within the deadline. 

If you would like some advice on a potential appeal, or if you have already lodged an appeal against either your conviction or sentence, Chambers Legal can assist you. Please ring us on (08) 9500 8915 to discuss your appeal further. 


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