ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation
05 March 2019
Top barrister, Robert Richter QC, will no longer represent Cardinal George Pell in court for his sentence and appeal, saying he is too emotional and angry about the guilty verdict handed down by the jury.
- Robert Richter says he will be available to help Pell’s team and is angry and upset at the outcome
- He denies his decision is linked to an apology he made after describing Pell’s offending as “plain vanilla”
- The senior barrister says he continues to have every faith in Pell’s case
Pell was convicted of sexually abusing two choirboys while he was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
He is due to be sentenced on March 13 but has already lodged an appeal.
“I’m too angry and upset at the outcome to bring the objectivity that an appeal requires,” he said.
Mr Richter said he will still be available to help Pell’s legal team and is convinced he had a strong case in overturning what he called “a questionable conviction”.
“I will not be arguing the appeal myself simply because I believe the Cardinal deserves someone who can be dispassionate enough to present the case to the Court of Appeal,” he said.
“I’m too involved and I have been too involved for too long.
“I have not abandoned the team and in fact I believe the appeal should be conducted by people who are not involved in the trial — but I have every faith in the Cardinal’s case.”
Last week, Mr Richter issued an apology after he described Pell’s abuse of a 13-year-old choir boy as “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case”.
In a statement he said he had reflected on what he termed “the terrible choice of a phrase”.
‘Not unusual’ to step away from appeal
However Mr Richter insisted his decision was not influenced by the controversy.
“Not in the least,” he said.
“I thought I’d done a professional job here and I thought there would be an appropriate result.
“I am disappointed but the appeal will determine whether my disappointment and anger at the jury’s verdict was valid.”
He also said it was not unusual for him to step away from a case before it went to an appeal.
“I very frequently do not appear in appeals of decisions in which I’ve done the trials or the pleas, because I think they usually require a clearer and more independent head to evaluate,” he said.
Bret Walker SC will run the appeal.
A jury found Pell guilty of sexual penetration of a child under 16, as well as four counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence, of a child.
The verdict relates to two different incidents that took place when he was the archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell abused the two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral after celebrating one of his first Sunday masses as archbishop.
He abused one of the boys a second time, two months later.
Pell has always denied the allegations but he did not give evidence during the trial, nor make any public comment.
His lawyer, Paul Galbally, released a statement after the suppression order lifted to confirm an appeal had been lodged.
“Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so,” the statement said.
“Although originally the Cardinal faced allegations from a number of complainants, all charges except for those the subject of the appeal have now been either withdrawn, discharged or discontinued.
“He will not be commenting in the meantime.”
Victoria police chief slaps down Richter claim of ‘vanilla’ sex abuse
The Weekend Australian
Queen’s Counsel Robert Richter last night apologised for referring to George Pell’s most serious charge as “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case’’.
Mr Richter released a remorseful statement after having faced wide criticism for using what many perceived to be an inflammatory comment while arguing for a low sentence for Australia’s most senior Catholic.
Complaining of a sleepless night after court on Wednesday, Mr Richter’s apology was effectively an open letter to abuse survivors, some of whom were in the County Court to watch Pell being incarcerated.
The comment was made to County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd, who rejected the statement at the time during sentencing submissions, declaring Pell’s offences were on a higher, rather than lower, level.
One of the five charges Pell was found guilty of involved oral penetration of a 13-year-old boy.
Mr Richter told the court: “It is, with respect, no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not volunteering or not actively participating.’’
But his statement last night declared that the comment was an error of judgment.
“After spending a sleepless night reflecting upon the terrible choice of a phrase I used in court during the course of a long and stressful process, I offer my sincerest apologies to all who were hurt or offended by it. No offence was intended,’’ Mr Richter said.
“It was not intended to evade the seriousness of what has been done. The seriousness of the crime was acknowledged at the outset by the concession that it merited imprisonment.
“In seeking to mitigate sentence I used a wholly inappropriate phrase for which I apologise profusely to all who interpreted it in a way it was never intended.
“It was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many.
“I hope my apology is accepted as sincerely as it is meant and I will never repeat such carelessness in my choice of words which might offend.’’
Pell, 77, is on remand to be sentenced this month on five sex assault charges involving two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.
Judge Kidd was unimpressed with the comment, declaring the Pell attacks to be “callous’’ and “brazen’’, with an “element of brutality’’, flagging any sentence would be on the upper end of the sentencing scale.
Pell has steadfastly maintained his innocence but was found guilty by the jury.
The Australian understands that prominent Sydney barrister Bret Walker SC will represent Pell at the Court of Appeal. It is standard practice for another barrister to conduct the appeal and it is believed that Mr Richter, his junior Ruth Shann and solicitor Paul Galbally will remain on the cardinal’s case.
Pell yesterday remained at the Melbourne Assessment Prison, and has received his first visit while he awaits to be sentenced this month.
Victoria’s Chief Commissioner of Police, Graham Ashton, weighed into the debate yesterday, saying that police did not consider sexual crimes against children to be “plain vanilla” offending.
“I think it’s probably a question you’d have to ask a victim of any sexual offending, whether they find that term offensive and I’m pretty sure I know what answer you’d get,” he said.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston told the ABC she was concerned about the effect the comments could have on abuse survivors.
“It just minimises what has happened to them. It says ‘it’s really nothing much, get over it’,’’ she said. “People take that as a slap.”
Judge Kidd remanded the nation’s most senior Catholic cleric into custody on Wednesday ahead of sentencing on March 13 for what he described as a “blatant” attack on two teenage choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
Pell dropped his application for bail while he pursued his appeal against his conviction.
Robert Richter apologises for describing George Pell’s abuse as ‘vanilla sex’
After a ‘sleepless night reflecting’, barrister says sorry for his ‘terrible choice of phrase’
Thu 28 Feb 2019 08.47 GMT
Robert Richter has apologised for his “terrible choice of phrase” in describing George Pell’s sexual abuse of a 13-year-old choirboy as “vanilla sexual penetration”.
The queen’s counsel has been widely criticised for the remark, which came during a plea hearing for the cardinal who is now behind bars awaiting sentence for orally raping the boy, and molesting him and another 13-year-old after a Sunday mass in 1996.
Richter was attempting to note there were no aggravating features to Pell’s offending, at a time when he was newly installed as archbishop of Melbourne at St Patrick’s cathedral.
“This is no more than a plain, vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating,” he said.
But on Thursday he issued an apology after a “sleepless night reflecting”.
“In seeking to mitigate sentence I used a wholly inappropriate phrase for which I apologise profusely to all who interpreted it in a way it was never intended: it was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse, and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many,” he wrote in a statement.
“I hope my apology is accepted as sincerely as it is meant and I will never repeat such carelessness in my choice of words which might offend.”
The chief judge Peter Kidd made it clear in court that he was unimpressed by Richter’s remark. “It must be clear by now I am struggling with that,” Kidd said. He described the five charges a jury convicted Pell of in December as brutal and callous.
Richter also explained his comments to abuse survivor and advocate Manny Waks. Waks wrote to Richter saying; “Respectfully, it was shocking to read the comments in court attributed to you regarding Cardinal Pell’s conviction… Of course, everyone is entitled to a defence. And, for what it’s worth, I certainly have no issue with you defending Pell (or any other criminal) in court.
“However, to use such language, is deeply offensive to so many on several levels. It has left me and many others shocked and upset. As you could imagine, it would be having a detrimental impact on some.”
In his response to Waks dated 28 February, Richter said his comments about Pell’s abusing had been taken out of the legal context.
“I accept that the media chose to report it because it sells but it was never intended for them,” Richter wrote. “In retrospect, I regret using a term well understood by lawyers and judges which is open to misinterpretation by those who do not understand the process of plea making after a conviction when the accused still maintains innocence; I was after all conceding that the conduct required imprisonment rather than arguing for a non-custodial sentence.
“I was trying to put it within a range which would avoid the kind of excessive number of years for which the crowd is calling.”
Waks said he accepted Richter’s apology. “What I took out of it is that he said it in a context and we all say silly inappropriate and offensive things on occasions – I know I do – and I think his public comments show he very clearly he understood it was highly offensive and inappropriate,” he told Guardian Australia.
He added he had met Richter and had “always appreciated talking to him, he’s a very impressive individual… I think his apology is a reflection on who he is, he realised he made a serious mistake and unequivocally apologised. From my perspective the case is closed”.
Richter’s comments drew widespread condemnation, including from the Victoria police chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, who said officers “certainly don’t treat them as plain vanilla offences”.
“It’s probably a question you’d have to ask a victim of any sexual offending, not specifically talking about this case, but more generally whether they find that term offensive and I’m pretty sure I know what answer you’d get,” Ashton told 3AW radio on Thursday.
Kidd will sentence Pell on 13 March. Each of the charges carries a 10-year maximum sentence.