Insights from Quadrant

‘At odds with the evidence’

While the sentencing of George Pell attracted much coverage over the past week, with the Cardinal’s foes decrying any questioning of the jury’s “manifestly ludicrous” decision, the final resolution of another case hanging on allegations of clerical sexual abuse of a child flew largely beneath the radar. Like the accusations that have put a conservative prince of the church behind bars, the alleged offences of a Christian Brother, John Francis Tyrrell, saw him imprisoned.

On Friday, Victoria’s Court of Appeal opened the jail doors by overturning the conviction and ordering the 80-year-old’s immediate release. The Justices’ reasoning will give hope to those praying the Cardinal also will see eventual justice:

…The complainant first spoke to the police about the matters that were the subject of the charges in September 2014. He had never previously mentioned them to anyone else. There were a number of substantial inconsistencies between the account that he gave to the police, and the evidence that he gave at the trial. In addition, there were serious discrepancies between his version of events, and the facts that were objectively established by the evidence.

For example, the complainant initially told police that the offending occurred between 1965 and 1968, extending continuously over that entire period. He said that it had only concluded when he confronted the appellant directly at the school in early 1969.  However, it was clearly established that the appellant had ceased to teach at the school at the end of 1966.

Accordingly, the complainant’s account was totally at odds, in that regard, with the objective evidence. There were a number of other material inconsistencies in the complainant’s evidence, and there were also significant aspects of it which were improbable…

…Having carefully reviewed the evidence in the trial, the Court of Appeal concluded that in light of the many inconsistencies in the complainant’s account, and the improbabilities associated with his evidence, it had not been open to the jury to be satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, of the guilt of the appellant. In reaching that conclusion, the Court applied the test, specified by the High Court, that an intermediate appellate court, faced with a ground challenging a conviction as being unsafe, must conduct its own independent review of the evidence …

The full summary of the Tyrrell jury’s errors can be read here.

Meanwhile, a lesser legal mind’s faith in another jury’s reasoning remains unshaken:

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