High Court Mintabie book-up
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

1. How long will it take to release Pell now that his conviction has been quashed? 

Pell will be released from custody virtually immediately. He will be released from Barwon Prison today. 

2. What happens with the sex offender register? Are they automatically removed or is that a separate process? 

Australia does not have a public sex offender register. However, each state/territory maintains a sex offender register which can only be accessed by individuals authorised by the police.

In Victoria, the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 (SOR Act) establishes the Sex Offenders Register (register) and requires registered persons to keep police informed about their contact details, internet user names, place of residence, place of employment, travel plans, the motor vehicle they drive and other matters relating to their contact or likely contact with children. 

Now that Pell’s conviction has been quashed, he will cease to be a “registrable offender”. This means that he would no longer be required to comply with any reporting obligations imposed on him under the SOR Act, and will be eligible for removal from the register. 

3. What happens with the redacted portions of the royal commission’s report relating to Pell?

The redactions have remained in place since Pell’s hearing in August 2019. In May 2019, a spokesperson from the attorney-general’s office said:

Un-redacted reports of the royal commission cannot be released until the relevant state or territory authorities have confirmed that all relevant legal matters have been finalised.

The High Court’s decision represents the finalisation of all legal matters. We would expect that the complete version of the royal commission report will be published imminently.

4. Now that the conviction has been overturned, how should you refer to the ‘victims’?

There is no general consensus on how to refer to the ‘victim’ after a sexual assault conviction is overturned. 

Now that the conviction has been overturned, we advise referring to them as ‘complainants’ (the phrase generally used by appellate courts) or ‘accusers’. 

5. What should you do about historical stories about Pell in which he was labelled ‘guilty’?

A story that reports a conviction and remains online after the conviction has been overturned, may expose a publisher to a potential defamation suit. 

If you wanted to err on the side of absolute caution, you might consider updating all previous stories about Pell with an updated header, which could say something to the following effect:

Since this article was first published, Cardinal George Pell’s conviction has been overturned. At the time the article was first published, all facts and matters included in this article were true. You can read more about Pell’s conviction being overturned here [include link to most recent article].

However, in circumstances where Pell’s story and the process through the Court of Appeal and High Court is now so notorious, it is unlikely that any hypothetical reader could be taken to have misunderstood the position on his conviction by reading the outdated article. We consider that any historical articles referring to the conviction will, in effect, be superseded by all of the recent stories recording that the conviction has been overturned.

6. Can the accusers now be named if the conviction is overturned?

No. Despite the fact that all suppression orders in these proceedings have been revoked, the usual restrictions on naming the victims of sexual abuse cases remain. The Judicial Proceeding Reports Act 1958 (Vic) prohibits publication of details likely to lead to the identification of a person against whom a sexual offence is alleged to have been committed.

This prohibition continues to apply even in circumstances where the associated prosecution has not resulted in a conviction against the accused perpetrator (or where that conviction has been overturned). The accusers could, however, be identified if their consent has been obtained, and there is no further proceedings on foot.

Dean Levitan and Annabelle Ritchie are media lawyer with MinterEllison, Crikey’s defamation lawyers

Peter Fray

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