Well, as expected, the right have swung into action behind the Pell acquittal, arguing that the cardinal was subject to a “miscarriage of justice” that “should never have happened”.
Bolt was the first out of the box, having a Bolt blogasm of posting on the issue, and Damien Thompson in The Spectator carried the “miscarriage” line as did Paul Kelly in The Australian. I haven’t even looked at Quadrant.
Meanwhile, on the other side, cultural left Twitter is conducting an interesting experiment in just how much civil and criminal libel and outright contempt of court you can commit before the law actually steps in on that website.
Well, the right’s campaign paid off, and the cultural left’s attachment to the lower court verdict turned out to be the disaster I suggested it might become.
But the right’s charge that this is a “miscarriage of justice” is ridiculous of course. Cardinal George Pell got more justice than most people in his situation got. The system worked exactly as it was supposed to, and as the right has supported for decades.
“Miscarriage of justice” — in the moral-political sense that the right is deploying it — occurs when evidence is planted, statements are faked, defence barristers become police informers, and legal aid is paltry or denied altogether.
None of that occurred in Pell’s case. He received a fair trial, with the best defence money can buy, and he was found guilty by a unanimous verdict.
The appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal centred on the unreasonableness in law of the jury’s verdict, and on two utterly minor procedural matters, only one of them evidential — whether the judge should have barred use of a video of the St Patrick’s cathedral spaces. There was no claim of positive judicial misdirection, or trial mishandling made in the appeal. The High Court assessed, and overturned the state level appeal, and acquitted rather than sending the case back to that level for reconsideration.
This is the way the system works. This is why there are lower and higher courts. It would be self-contradictory to assert that an appeal court’s overturning of a jury verdict constituted a moral “miscarriage” — rather than a technical one.
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Pell got a fair trial, and then he got what everyone should get but few do — the opportunity to have the verdict reassessed as a matter of law.
Between County Court verdict and High Court acquittal, Pell spent a year in prison, which is unpleasant, and during which medical care for various chronic conditions was inadequate. That’s tough, but that’s the system.
Pell’s defenders, who suddenly found themselves to be law and prison reformers, have never shown one iota of concern for healthcare in prison before, or the unnecessary squalor of prison life. Or 23-hour-per-day lockdowns for at-risk prisoners because the system won’t spend money on better alternatives.
The tabloid papers and the Oz running defence for Pell — and the Catholic boys club of roundsmen journos doing the defending — have run years of stories damning any violent prisoner who launches an appeal as “tormenting the victims further”.
They have constructed lower court verdicts as the “people’s verdict” for years. They built the pyre on which Cardinal Pell’s reputation has been incinerated.
So too, their lack of interest in prison reform has been a factor in Pell’s year of misery, and the probable damage to his health through poor medical attention.
Had we a north-European style system, Pell would have been imprisoned in a plain-but-not-degrading motel style accommodation, had garden access, more life activities and a form of designed sociality, in between protective solitary and being in the general population.
He would have had, as right, medical care equivalent to non-prisoner medical care, on the grounds that a custodial sentence is not a death sentence by default.
But if any state Labor government attempts to do such things, the tabloids use it as a wedge against them; so, in fact. Labor, to get law-and-order-points, veers towards greater carceralism and punitiveness, like the nasty hyper-surveillance prison being built in Lara as an employment substitute for the decline of industry in Geelong.
Pell would have got better treatment than most, but he still got a big dose of what the tabloids demand prisoners get: conditions-as-punishment every waking moment of the day.
Will Pell’s defenders suddenly swing round to reform of prison, to the substitution of community service for imprisonment, adequate medical care and the like? Of course not. Now their boy’s out, they will swing back to being the carceralists and populists they always were.
If someone had suggested denying paedophiles appeal rights before the Pell verdict (legally impossible, but anyway) the right would have jumped on it as a great populist campaign. The only cause they will further now is that of judge-only trials for public figures, a two-tier law system, so that they are never caught in the hideous contradiction of having to criticise the legal and prison system again.
For as long as Pell’s around.
Which may be shorter than it otherwise would have been. One year of a poorly treated heart condition in a stressful situation tends to wear things out faster.
Still, accidents will happen. And it’s not a bloody holiday camp is it? It’s not a bloody holiday camp!