No doubt you’re all aware of the conviction of Cardinal Pell for historic sex offences, relating to two 13-year-old boys in the St Patrick’s choir in 1996. Cardinal Pell is the third most senior figure within the Catholic Church, and the highest-ranking Catholic Priest ever to be convicted of child sex offences.
You also have no doubt seen some members of the press, particularly News Ltd. journalists and conservative politicians, defending Cardinal Pell. You may not have seen the quasi-legal defence of Father Frank Brennan, which apparently has been sent to the parents of all Catholic school children in Melbourne.
Why is Father Frank Brennan’s opinion important? Because Father Frank Brennan is an Australian Jesuit priest, a human rights lawyer and an academic. He’s also the son of Gerard Brennan, the former Chief Justice of the High Court, who sat on the leading case in relation to jury verdicts of M v The Queen . Shortly after sitting on that case, Gerard Brennan was appointed Chief Justice of High Court of Australia.
Frank Brennan’s opinion therefore comes from one of the leading legal families in Australia, and will be treated with the highest respect.
As a criminal lawyer, I don’t care about the opinions of the paedophile defenders, the conservative machine that has come out in support of Cardinal Pell. I never trust the Bolts, the Devines, the Howards, the Abbotts or the Murdochs, or News Ltd itself. To me, they are liars defending the privileged positions and platforms of their mates.
But I do care about the opinion of an eminent lawyer, which has been disseminated to Catholic school parents, especially when I like and respect what Father Frank Brennan has done in the past, and in particularly his advocacy for social justice, refugee protection, Aboriginal reconciliation and human rights activism.
But here, he is defending the indefensible. Why?
Well I urge you to read this blog, written by Daniel Reeders, which outlines the legalities in relation to overturning a jury decision.
The two leading cases are M v The Queen (1994) and Chidiac v The Queen (1991). The conclusion of the High Court was that:
… the ultimate question must always be whether the court thinks that upon the whole of the evidence it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty.”
Father Brennan argues that because of the mistakes and discrepancies in the evidence of the victim, the verdict is unsatisfactory. And therein lies the problem. He second guesses the jury, and makes many assumptions about why and how they came to their guilty verdict. And simply, he wasn’t there. He did attend the court for a number of days, but the jury was there for a number of weeks. They heard all of the evidence, and they came to their conclusion.
Yes, the court of appeal will finally decide if the verdict is unsatisfactory, and if so they will allow the appeal, quash the verdict and order a fresh trial.
Father Brennan also says:
And let’s hope there can be truth and justice for all individuals involved in these proceedings.”
The implication is unfortunately clear. Justice has not been done.
But it has. The legal principle is “innocent until proven guilty” and not “innocent until after the appeal process”.
There are so many problems with what has happened. So much money has been spent by tax payers and by the church.
My view is to simply trust the jury. Trust the 12 men and women who listened to the evidence for weeks. Trust the victims. Understand their pain.
Do not trust the paedophile defenders.
Justice has been done.