Travesty of justice: ‘trusted’ institutions fail Pell, public

Travesty of justice: ‘trusted’ institutions fail Pell, public, by Paul Kelly.

The George Pell story is a fiasco that combines incompetence and malevolence. It had every aspect of tragedy — a big man who polarised opinion, a church engaged in criminal behaviour, victims who demanded justice, and police, media and legal institutions that failed to honour their obligations. …

Revealed as a witch hunt

It is Pell’s opponents who broke the conventions and retreated from legal reasoning. It is Pell’s opponents who fomented a mood bordering on irrational vindictiveness that meant he was denied fair process. The High Court’s repeated use of the word “rational” in its judgment is revealing in its logic — that Pell was treated in an irrational way by the justice system.

This is polite judicial language. Let’s call it for what it was: a sentiment in parts of the community that Pell’s trial had a meaning transcending guilt or innocence — that he must be punished for the church’s crimes in the name of its hundreds of victims. This is how many saw his trial and, in this sense, it was a political trial.

Only the High Court, in its wisdom, halted the abuse of the justice system. The force of its judgment raises the inevitable question: if this case had been treated on merit Pell would not have been charged. The evidence was inherently implausible. …

Long a champion of indigenous rights in this country, [Frank Brennan, Jesuit priest and human rights champion] told Inquirer of the Pell fiasco: “I don’t think Aborigines were treated as prejudicially by even the worst of 19th-century judges.”

What do we learn from this?

A more realistic and honest assessment is that Pell, the nation’s senior Catholic, was unable to get a fair trial in Victoria. There was a climate of opinion against him that was irredeemably hostile. Much of this was cultivated by the media spearheaded by the ABC. …

Some media outlets made serious mistakes in the Pell fiasco. They fuelled the mob mentality. The job of the ABC was to inform and educate on one of the most contentious trials in the past half-century. Instead, it campaigned against Pell, essentially offering a one-sided condemnatory view in a coverage that was extensive, powerful and influential with the public.

The High Court’s decision reveals that, from the start, there were two sides to this story — a flawed church that Pell represented and a flawed Victorian legal system prejudiced against him. The ABC saw only one side. Its campaigning mentality meant it failed to inform the public about the real nature of this contest and the issues involved.

It remains exposed by the High Court’s decision.