About 18 months ago a New South Wales judge made a remarkable admission.
He acknowledged that he was under pressure to jail Archbishop Philip Wilson ‘simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest’.
Thankfully, Judge Roy Ellis did what was right, rather than bow to the might of the mob. He freed Archbishop Wilson, overturning a guilty verdict that was a travesty of justice and that had shamed the New South Wales court system.
Judge Ellis’ statement should have sent alarm bells ringing.
It was an admission that the justice system was being pressured to lock up innocent men by the media. Indeed, he specifically stated that the media had become the ‘elephant in the room’ in some cases.
Yet, just six days later, Cardinal Pell was imprisoned.
Thankfully, today the High Court tore the case against Pell apart in 129 unanimous paragraphs.
The allegations against Pell were always fanciful. But the High Court’s summary of the case against Pell in today’s judgement devastatingly outlined just how absurd they were.
Cardinal Pell is now freed after 405 days spent behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement.
This brings to an end one of the most shameful legal episodes in Australia’s history. But it does not bring an end to this matter.
Those who allowed hateful prejudice or sheer negligence to get in the way of duty and helped to jail an innocent man must now face a reckoning.
And all those who cheered and jeered as Pell was jailed have been utterly discredited. Some of them now hold positions that are untenable.
Yet even now they refuse to accept responsibility for their failures.
The Victorian Police opened an investigation into Cardinal Pell before a single complaint against him had been made. It then advertised for complainants to come forward.
This is an outrageous abuse of law enforcement powers. It shows that senior Victorian police officers were out to get a man, rather than out to solve a crime.
Yet even today, after every single allegation the Victorian Police dug up has been found to be without merit, this discredited, biased and vengeful outfit cannot accept reality.
Instead of apologising to Cardinal Pell, this morning the Victorian Police issued a press release stating that they continue to provide support to complainants while praising their ‘tireless work’ on this case.
This tireless work jailed an innocent man.
All those involved in the Victorian Police’s witch hunt of Pell should be looking for new jobs.
The Chief Justice of Victoria, Anne Ferguson, simply cannot remain in her position after today’s High Court decision. Ditto for President of the Victorian Court of Appeal, Christopher Maxwell.
These two had to resort to extreme lengths of fantasy to keep Pell in jail, while trashing the legal safeguards of the justice system. Today their reputations have been shattered by the High Court.
As stated in the High Court’s ruling, their ‘analysis failed to engage with whether…it was reasonably possible that [the complainant’s] account was not correct, such that there was a reasonable doubt as to [Pell’s] guilt.’
The High Court went on to rule that there were ‘compounding improbabilities caused by the unchallenged evidence’ of those who were with Pell that ‘plainly’ raised doubt about Pell’s guilt.
As such, the High Court emphatically and unanimously judged that ‘there is a significant possibility…that an innocent person has been convicted’.
The Australian’s legal affairs editor, Chris Merrett, best summed up the situation now confronting Maxwell and Ferguson in an article last year, writing:
The stakes are staggeringly high. This affair now concerns not just the freedom of a cardinal but the continued public standing of Victoria’s top judges and the man who might well be the nation’s greatest lawyer.
If the assessment of Walker and Shann is accepted by the High Court, it will amount to a crippling blow for Ferguson and Maxwell.
The public standing of Victoria’s top judges has been destroyed. These two should now resign.
Finally, many in the media class have been irrevocably damaged.
Louise Milligan, in particular, and the rabidly anti-Catholic ABC which wantonly used taxpayer funds to promote her defamatory book on Cardinal Pell, are now left with shattered reputations too.
Milligan was the very tip of the spear in the media campaign against Cardinal Pell, but it was a spear that the majority of her colleagues were happy to throw.
Last year Milligan was awarded the ‘Press Freedom Medal’ by the Australian Press Council for her ‘reporting’ on Cardinal Pell. The blue tick brigade of journalists on Twitter then lined up to sing their praises of her ‘courage’.
In a cab on Harbour Bridge in rainy Sydney, & bowled over to have just been presented 2019 Press Freedom Medal. I dedicate it to J, a courageous man who stared down apex of power to achieve justice, to R, who didn’t make it, & to all the men who told me their truth. #journalism pic.twitter.com/RyCovo6WIa
— Louise Milligan (@Milliganreports) August 30, 2019
Ironically, this medal is presented to those who have ‘demonstrated extraordinary commitment or service to the cause of press freedom’.
Let us remember the words of Judge Roy Ellis, who six days before Pell was jailed, warned that he was under pressure from the media to jail an innocent man because he was a priest.
Louise Milligan’s ‘work’ was a large part of the reason why an innocent priest was jailed.
Today the High Court has done its part to rectify this assault on freedom. Now it’s up to the Australian Press Council to do its job and revoke this award for freedom from Milligan, who did so much to unjustly take away the liberty of Cardinal Pell.