The criminal history of one of George Pell’s accusers won’t be given to the cardinal’s lawyers ahead of a major hearing into allegations of historical sexual offending.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington on Tuesday ruled Victoria Legal Aid was not compelled to hand over material on one of its former clients to Cardinal Pell’s defence team, which had outlined some of the man’s personal details related to his appearances in court in 2006 and 2012.
Defence lawyers sought the material to determine whether the man used any allegations of sexual abuse as mitigating reasons when before the courts. The man, who cannot be identified, once faced charges of trafficking heroin and breaching court orders.
Ms Wallington’s ruling in Melbourne Magistrates Court followed recent decisions not to allow Cardinal Pell’s lawyers access to the medical records of the people who accuse the 76-year-old of sexual offending.
But defence counsel Robert Richter, QC, and colleague Ruth Shann were on Tuesday given permission to question accusers on the timing of their disclosures to test whether the allegations against the cardinal were not confused with allegations against other people.
“This is a case where we have people alleging things occurred from decades ago and the issue is recent invention,” Ms Shann told the court.
Ms Wallington granted the application and will on Friday rule how far the questioning can go.
Cardinal Pell faces charges of historical sexual offences involving multiple complainants. Details of the charges are yet to be revealed.
The cardinal, who has repeatedly denied the alleged offending, was not in court on Tuesday.
He is due to appear on Monday for the first day of a scheduled four-week hearing that will determine whether he stands trial. The first two weeks of that committal hearing are to be closed to the public and media while the alleged victims give evidence.
On Tuesday, Mr Richter applied for Victorian Legal Aid to hand over material about one man, to see if the alleged victim ever disclosed allegations of sexual abuse when he appeared before the courts.
The man denied to his mother he was sexually offended against, the court heard, and Mr Richter said any failure to disclose allegations in the material tendered in the man’s defence would be significant.
“[He] is central to one of the allegations and it’s a very serious allegation,” Mr Richter said.
“If there is a report in 2012 that is intended to mitigate a penalty … for him not to have mentioned any allegation of interference by the defendant speaks volumes in this prosecution and we ought to have it.
“It is critical when it was entirely in [his] interest that he make an allegation of sexual abuse by the cardinal and no allegation was made.”
But Peter Hanks, QC, for VLA, said it was against the law for a Legal Aid staffer to detail what legal services the organisation had provided a client, and to pass on material presented to court on behalf of a client.
Doing so would also reduce the confidence people had in VLA and cause the organisation “significant impediment in its effective operation”, Mr Hanks said.
Ms Wallington ruled she couldn’t compel VLA to provide the material, and ordered Cardinal Pell’s defence pay the costs of VLA’s appearance in court.
As well as VLA and the medical records of complainants, Cardinal Pell’s lawyers have sought legal documents from Victoria Police, law firms, victims’ advocacy group Broken Rites, other legal support organisations, The Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan, whose book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell was published before he was charged.
Melbourne University Press withdrew Ms Milligan’s book from Victorian shops when the cardinal was charged last year.
Many of the documents requested have either been provided or will be, court hearings have heard.
Up to 50 witnesses could be called during the committal hearing.
Cardinal Pell has taken leave from his position at the Vatican to be in Australia to fight the charges.
His case is due to return to court on Friday for a final administrative hearing.
Cardinal George Pell’s accusers to be questioned about timing, circumstances of allegations
ABC News Australia
27 February 2018
Cardinal George Pell’s lawyers will question his accusers about when they first disclosed Australia’s most senior Catholic had allegedly abused them, as they try to prove the allegations are a “recent invention”, a Melbourne court has heard.
The 76-year-old will return to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court next week for a month-long committal hearing as he fights historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants.
No other details of the case can be reported for legal reasons.
Complainants in the case will be the first to give evidence at the hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to commit Cardinal Pell to stand trial.
One of Cardinal Pell’s defence barristers, Ruth Shann, told an administrative hearing that they plan to cross-examine the alleged victims about the circumstances in which they made their complaint, the timing of it being made, and whether they had had opportunities to make it at an earlier stage.
“This is a case where we have people alleging that things occurred from decades ago and the issue is recent invention,” she said.
Cardinal Pell’s defence team also made an application to ask the complainants about exactly what they said when they first disclosed the alleged abuse.
Defence to focus on timing of disclosures
For example, Ms Shann said, if a complainant had disclosed abuse perpetrated by another offender in 2009, then they wanted to know who they spoke to, and if there was also mention of Cardinal Pell.
“Our focus is on disclosures about Cardinal Pell and the timing of them,” she said.
Ms Shann said they did not intend to ask any of the complainants about the details of their abuse by other alleged perpetrators.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington will rule on whether to permit that line of questioning on Friday.
Cardinal Pell’s legal team were on Tuesday denied access to a report regarding one of the complainants when he came before a court.
Barrister Robert Richter QC said the report was tendered to the court by the alleged victim’s lawyers in an effort to mitigate his sentence, and for him not to have mentioned any allegations against Cardinal Pell at that time “speaks volumes”.
“It is critical to the credibility of those allegations … when it was entirely in [the complainant’s] interests to make the suggestion of sexual abuse by the Cardinal that no allegation was made,” he said.
Legal aid ‘prohibited’ from supplying accuser’s court report
Mr Richter told the court that person had denied the abuse had occurred in another instance.
He said the report would be relevant to the cross-examination of the case.
But Victoria Legal Aid, which funded the complainant’s legal defence at the time, said legislation prohibited it from supplying the report.
Magistrate Wallington awarded it costs for appearing at today’s hearing, despite Mr Richter opposing the application and telling the court Victoria Legal Aid’s conduct had been “completely unreasonable in this matter”.
There will be further legal argument on the return of outstanding subpoenas on Friday.
Cardinal Pell’s committal hearing will be closed for up to two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required under legislation.