Two Judges and the Baying Mob
Keith Windschuttle, QUADRANT, 12th April 2020
Victoria should join New South Wales in allowing high-profile criminal matters to be heard by a judge alone. Judges, at least, should be above the baying mob.
— The Australian, 8 April 2020
This recommendation from an editorial in The Australian reflected many commentaries on the High Court verdict that freed Cardinal George Pell from prison and overturned his infamous conviction for alleged child sexual abuse. It recognised, rightly, that in high profile cases like this, juries can be swayed by thoughts that are both unreasonable and unjust.
In this case, the editorial reported that a common sentiment heard inside the trial court’s public gallery was: “Even if he didn’t do this he deserves to be punished,” a referral to practices in the Catholic Church to cover up allegations of this kind from the 1950s to the 1980s, long before Pell was in any position in the church to do something about it. In short, some members of the public, that is, potential jurors, think it is OK to make a man a scapegoat for something he didn’t do.
And, as I noted in earlier coverage of this issue in Quadrant, June 2019 (“Why the Second Jury Found George Pell Guilty“), the highly publicised public apology given to victims of child sexual abuse by Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, recommended to them by the Royal Commission into the subject, was made just sixteen days before the start of Pell’s second trial in Melbourne’s County Court. So the jurors who convicted Pell began their task with the slogan of the apology, ‘I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you’, ringing in their ears. Little wonder they succumbed to this appeal.