George Pell’s appeal against his conviction of child sexual assault turns on one question that resists examination and another that must survive it. What is a reasonable doubt? Was it reasonable for the jury that convicted him not to have it?
Two days of courtroom submissions in early June left us little the wiser on the first question. The ensuing analysis was more intent on exploring the narrative possibilities than the basis for them. On Wednesday we’ll learn whether the jury’s guilty verdict is affirmed or set aside. Either way, the reasons provided will offer an overdue insight into the uncertain latitudes of reasonable doubt.
The High Court authority to which the Victorian Court of Appeal must defer is 25 years old and not overly expansive: “A reasonable doubt experienced by the court is a doubt which a reasonable jury ought to have experienced". The court must examine the evidence afresh and decide for itself whether it proves the charges to the required standard.