Connie-Lee Rose Williams has been refused leave to appeal against her sentence for one count of dangerous operation of a vehicle, causing death whilst adversely affected by an intoxicating substance and excessively speeding.
On 20 September 2017, Connie-Lee Rose Williams drove a motor vehicle on the Bruce Highway, north of Gin Gin which left the road and impacted at high speed with a culvert, and subsequently a tree. Her husband and her five year old son were both ejected from the vehicle and lost their lives. Neither wore seatbelts.
An investigation of the collision established that the motor vehicle had failed to negotiate a sweeping curve and left the road at a minimum speed of 171 kilometres per hour.
Immediately prior to leaving the roadway, Williams was observed to engage in a protracted course of dangerous driving. Other road users had been required to take evasive actions to avoid a collision.
At the time of the collision, Williams was travelling upon a sealed bitumen road, divided by audible double continuous lines. The weather was fine and clear. The road surface was dry. Visibility was good. The motor vehicle was in satisfactory mechanical condition. A subsequent examination found no faults which would have contributed to the incident.
Williams, who was restrained by a seatbelt, sustained injuries as a consequence of the impact. Blood specimens taken from Williams upon arrival at hospital revealed the presence of both amphetamines and methylamphetamine at levels likely to affect her ability to safely drive a motor vehicle. A search of the motor vehicle located a clip seal bag containing 1.65 grams of pure methylamphetamine.
Section 328A(4) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) provides that
328A Dangerous operation of a vehicle
(4) A person who operates, or in any way interferes with the operation of, a vehicle dangerously in any place and causes the death of or grievous bodily harm to another person commits a crime and is liable on conviction on indictment—
(a) to imprisonment for 10 years, if neither paragraph (b) nor (c) applies; or
(b) to imprisonment for 14 years if, at the time of committing the offence, the offender is—
(i) adversely affected by an intoxicating substance; or
(ii) excessively speeding; or
(iii) taking part in an unlawful race or unlawful speed trial; or
(c) to imprisonment for 14 years, if the offender knows, or ought reasonably know, the other person has been killed or injured, and the offender leaves the scene of the incident, other than to obtain medical or other help for the other person, before a police officer arrives.
This offence is mentioned in schedule 1 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld).
A conviction for a serious violent offence has the consequence that 80% of the sentence must be served before the offender is eligible for parole.
Section 161A(3) of the Penalties and Sentences Act relevantly provides that:
161A When an offender is convicted of a serious violent offence
An offender is convicted of a serious violent offence if—
a) the offender is—
(i) convicted on indictment of an offence—
(A) against a provision mentioned in schedule 1; or
(B) of counselling or procuring the commission of, or attempting or conspiring to commit, an offence against a provision mentioned in schedule 1; and
(ii) sentenced to 10 or more years imprisonment for the offence, calculated under section 161C.
Section 161B of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) relevantly provides that:
161B DECLARATION OF CONVICTION OF SERIOUS VIOLENT OFFENCE
(1) If an offender is convicted of a serious violent offence under section 161A(a), the sentencing court must declare the conviction to be a conviction of a serious violent offence as part of the sentence.
(3) If an offender is—
(a) convicted on indictment of an offence—
(i) against a provision mentioned in schedule 1; or
(ii) of counselling or procuring the commission of, or attempting or conspiring to commit, an offence against a provision mentioned in schedule 1; and
(b) sentenced to 5 or more, but less than 10, years imprisonment for the offence, calculated under section 161C;
the sentencing court may declare the offender to be convicted of a serious violent offence as part of the sentence.
(5) For subsections (3) and (4), if an offender is convicted on indictment of an offence—
(a) that involved the use, counselling or procuring the use, or conspiring or attempting to use, violence against a child under 12 years; or
(b) that caused the death of a child under 12 years;
the sentencing court must treat the age of the child as an aggravating factor in deciding whether to declare the offender to be convicted of a serious violent offence.
Section 161C of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) ) relevantly provides that the specified years of a sentence under Sections 161B(3) is the number of years imposed for the Schedule 1 offences calculated as at the day of sentence.
Williams’ plea of guilty to the offence was entered on the basis that she accepted she had deliberately engaged in a course of dangerous driving over a protracted period, which was hazardous to the safety of herself, her passengers and other road users. That dangerous driving included driving on the wrong side of the road, over double white lines, whilst excessively speeding and being significantly adversely affected by methylamphetamine, in circumstances where she was aware that her passengers, including her young son, were not restrained by seatbelts.
District Court Judge Moynihan QC acknowledged the early plea of guilty but described Williams’ driving as involving the deliberate engagement in an extended course of reckless and dangerous driving on a major highway, endangering a number of people, with catastrophic consequences, particularly to her husband’s family. This dangerous driving occurred in circumstances where Williams was found to have both amphetamine and methylamphetamine in her blood, at levels enough to adversely affect her driving. Her observed conduct at the scene was also consistent with amphetamine use.
Judge Moynihan QC had regard to numerous mitigating factors: that Williams was 33 years of age at the time of the offence, with no criminal history and a limited traffic history; that she had pleaded guilty in a timely way, facilitating the administration of justice; that she had expressed remorse; her history and presentation were consistent with the presence of a number of psychological disorders, with the possibility of a potentially undiagnosed head trauma; that she had herself suffered significant physical injuries and had to live with the loss of both her husband and her son; and that she was separated from her two daughters and that this ongoing separation would have an adverse impact upon her and her daughters.
However, Judge Moynihan QC DCJ ordered Williams be imprisoned for nine years and declared the offence a serious violent offence, observing that:
“The factors I consider that make it a more serious example of the offence and warrant the declaration are: the extended distance over which you drove dangerously, the inherently dangerous nature of the manoeuvres you made on a number of occasions, the number of innocent members of the community you exposed to the real risk of serious injury or death by your deliberate and reckless conduct, that you allowed your son to travel unrestrained in the vehicle when you determined to drive the way you did whilst adversely affected by methylamphetamine and your deliberate and reckless conduct has taken the lives of two people.”
Williams applied for leave to appeal against her sentence, contending that it was manifestly excessive as circumstances of the offence did not involve sufficiently serious features to warrant the imposition of a sentence of nine years imprisonment, with a declaration that she had been convicted of a serious violent offence. She also argued that too little weight had been given to the mitigating factors.
Boddice J noted that:
“The applicant’s dangerous driving involved not only a protracted course of driving which placed other members of the public at significant risk. It involved a deliberate course of driving at excessive speed on the wrong side of a busy highway in areas where there were present double white lines, at a time when the applicant was adversely affected by intoxicating substances and aware that each of her passengers were unrestrained in the motor vehicle. Such a course of conduct was rightly described as involving an occasion of serious dangerous driving.”
Boddice J held that comparable authorities supported a conclusion that a proper exercise of the sentencing discretion for such a serious occasion of dangerous driving would have included a sentence of imprisonment of at least ten years, with the consequence that there would have been an automatic declaration she had been convicted of a serious violent offence. As a result, a sentence of nine years’ imprisonment, with a declaration Williams had been convicted of a serious violent offence, was a sentence at the lower end of the sentences applicable to this serious offending.
Sofronoff P and McMurdo JA agreed with Boddice J. As a result, the application for leave to appeal was refused.
This case demonstrates how deliberate dangerous driving that causes death can expect to be severely punished, even when there is a lack of criminal history and/or an early guilty plea. Connie-Lee Rose Williams intentionally drove under the influence of illegal drugs, at speeds well over the legal limit on the wrong side of the highway for a long period, knowing full well her husband and son were not wearing seat belts. The horrific consequences were readily foreseeable, and warranted a substantial sentence of actual imprisonment to reflect the gravity of the offending.
Former Ipswich Lord Mayor Paul Pisasale and two co-defendants have unsuccessfully appealed their convictions over a bizarre extortion plot.
Yutian Li, a Chinese woman working as an escort in Australia formed a relationship with the complainant in early 2016. The complainant led her to believe they would marry and enjoy a life together in Australia. Later that year he told her he had a terminal illness and did not want her to go through the resultant suffering of continuing their relationship. When she arrived unannounced in Sydney, intending to look after him, she discovered that he was already married and had a child, he did not have a terminal illness, and he did not wish to marry her. Continue reading “Paul Pisasale loses extortion convictions appeal”
The District Court has decided to not allow charges of indecent dealing to proceed due to the long history and unreasonable delays in the matter.
On 26 March 2002, Scott Volkers was arrested in relation to alleged indecently dealing of a 12 year old female swimmer in 1987.
On 16 June 2002, Volkers was charged with indecently dealing of a 13 year old female swimmer in 1984 and 1985.
On 25 July 2002, he was committed to stand trial on seven counts of indecent dealing involving the two complainants. Continue reading “District Court permanently stays Volkers prosecution”
William ‘Uncle Bill’ Randall has been struck off as a lawyer following his convictions for numerous child sex offences.
William John Randall was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland on 9 June 1981. He never practised as a solicitor, and never held a practising certificate. He was however appointed a Magistrate in 1985 and served for a long time in the small claims tribunal until his retirement in 2016.
On 21 November 2017 he was convicted by a jury of a range of serious sexual offences committed against a child. The child was just five when the abuse started in 1990 at Randall’s home at Wynnum, on Brisbane’s bayside. It continued for almost 12 years, and the victim was 30 before he finally gathered the courage to tell police. Randall was initially sentenced to 9 years imprisonment but on appeal this was increased to 11 years imprisonment. He continued to deny his offending throughout and never showed any remorse. Continue reading “Former Magistrate Bill Randall struck off for child sex abuse”
Former Ipswich lord mayor Paul Pisale, a Singaporean friend named Yutian Li and a lawyer named Cameron McKenzie were accused of participating in a bizarre extortion plot:
“Prosecutors claim Yutian told Pisasale she wanted to punish Xin after learning he was married during their relationship.
Pisasale then allegedly posed as a private investigator in a series of phone calls in which he told Xin he needed to pay Yutian between $5000 and $10,000, saying she has “a very, very good case” against him and “could go after you”.
The money, Pisasale said, was reimbursement for Yutian’s private investigation fees.
“She was so upset. You could just see her whole world had been destroyed,” he told the court.
“She was a beautiful person. She was a very caring person and she would have given her 100 per cent to this bloke.
“She was broke, she was in Australia and she had nowhere to turn.
“All he had to do was reimburse her and let her start again but he was so determined not do.”” Continue reading “Paul Pisale sentenced to 2 years imprisonment”
Catherine Holmes, the Chief Justice of Queensland has a piece in The Australian concerning some of the unfair and ill-informed criticisms of sentencing decisions in recent years:
Importantly, she does not say that decisions should not be criticised. However, given that judges are not supposed to respond to criticisms or defend their own decisions, personal attacks against judges and criticisms of decisions which do not show the reasons for the decisions undermine confidence in the Courts, and can threaten judicial independence: Continue reading “Chief Justice of Queensland speaks out for judicial independence”
Generally, indictable offences in Queensland are dealt with by the District or Supreme Courts, as they are usually serious offences. However, in some cases, indictable offences can or must be dealt with in the Magistrates Court.
Section 1 of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) defines an “indictment” to mean a written charge preferred against an accused person in order to the person’s trial before some court other than justices exercising summary jurisdiction. A “summary conviction” is defined as summary conviction before a Magistrates Court.
Section 3 of the Criminal Code provides that offences are of 2 kinds, namely, criminal offences and regulatory offences. Criminal offences comprise crimes, misdemeanours and simple offences. Crimes and misdemeanours are indictable offences, which means that the offenders cannot, unless otherwise expressly stated, be prosecuted or convicted except upon indictment. A person guilty of a regulatory offence or a simple offence may be summarily convicted by a Magistrates Court.
Sections 1 and 3 of the Code make it clear that the indictable offences are to be dealt with in the District or Supreme Courts, unless the Code provides otherwise. In the District or Supreme Courts, a jury is normally the trier of fact in a criminal trial. In contrast, a trial in the Magistrates Court is a called a summary trial, and the presiding Magistrate is the sole trier of fact. A matter dealt with summarily is dealt with in the Magistrates Court.
Chapter 58A of the Criminal Code (containing sections 552A -552BB inclusive) provides for when indictable offences must or can be heard summarily.
Section 552A of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily on Prosecution election.
Section 552B of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily, unless the defendant elects for a jury trial.
Section 552BA of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily, unless they are excluded offences under section 552BB of the Code.
Sections 552A, 552B and 552BA of the Criminal Code are all subject to section 552D, which provides that the Magistrates Court must abstain from hearing and determining a charge and must instead conduct a committal proceeding if it is an offence listed at Schedule 1C of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, the Court is of the view that the defendant may not be adequately punished on summary conviction after considering submissions or if exceptional circumstances exist.
Section 552H of the Criminal Code provides that the maximum period of imprisonment under section 552A , 552B or 552BA is three years, unless the court is constituted by a magistrate imposing a drug and alcohol treatment order, in which case the maximum penalty is four years imprisonment.
The list of indictable offences that must be dealt with summarily on Prosecution election is contained at section 552A(1) of the Criminal Code.
The offences listed include the commission, counselling or procuring, attempt or becoming an accessory after the fact of any of the following offences under the Criminal Code:
Section 141: Aiding persons to escape from lawful custody.
Section 142: Escaping from lawful custody.
Section 143: a person responsible for keeping someone in from lawful custody permitting escape from lawful custody.
Section 205A: Contravening order about information necessary to access information stored electronically.
Section 340: assaults committed with intent to commit a crime, or as part of an unlawful conspiracy in relation to any manufacture, trade, business, or occupation or committed against a police officer, a person performing a legal duty, a person aged over 60, or a person who relies on a guide, hearing or assistance dog, wheelchair or other remedial device.
The indictable offences that must be dealt with summarily unless the defence elects for a jury trial are listed at Section 552B(1) of the Code.
The offences listed include the commission, counselling or procuring, attempt or becoming an accessory after the fact of any of the following offences under the Criminal Code:
A sexual offence without a circumstance of aggravation for which the defendant has pleaded guilty, the complainant is at least 14 years of age and the maximum sentence is more than three years.
Section 339: assault occasioning bodily harm which is not committed in company, without the use of a dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument and not during the term of a community service order.
An offence involving an assault without a circumstance of aggravation and which is not of a sexual nature, and for which the maximum penalty is more than 3 years but not more than 7 years.
Section 60A: Participants in criminal organisation being knowingly present in public places.
Section 60B: Participants in criminal organisation entering prescribed places and attending prescribed events.
Section 76: Recruiting a person to become participant in criminal organisation.
Section 77B: Habitually consorting with recognised offenders.
Section 328A: Dangerous operation of a vehicle (with a circumstance of aggravation at Section 328A(2)).
359E Punishment of unlawful stalking if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is not more than 5 years.
An offence against chapter 14 (Corrupt and improper practices at elections), division 2 (Legislative Assembly elections and referendums), if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is more than 3 years.
An offence against chapter 22A (Prostitution), if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is more than 3 years.
An offence against chapter 42A (Secret Commissions).
Section 552BA(4) of the Code provides that ‘relevant offences’ must be heard and dealt with summarily.
Relevant offences are defined as indictable offences which either:
The list of excluded offences contained in the table of Section 552BB includes the following offences:
The list of excluded offences contained in the table of Section 552BB also includes the following indictable offences if committed in the following circumstances:
Section 398: stealing – if:
the amount stolen, yield or detriment is equal or more than $30,000, and the offender does not plead guilty; or
the thing stolen was a firearm for use in another indictable offence.
Section 399: fraudulent concealment of documents – if the offence is not committed in relation to a document recording title to property, or the yield or detriment is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 403: Severing with intent to steal – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 406: Bringing stolen goods into Queensland – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 408A: Unlawful use or possession of motor vehicles, aircraft or vessels – if the value of the motor vehicle, aircraft or vessel is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty, or if the offender is liable for at least 10 years imprisonment (ie if they used the vehicle for the commission of an indictable offence or intended to or did wilfully destroy, damage, remove or otherwise interfere with the mechanism (or part thereof) or other part of or equipment attached to the motor vehicle, aircraft or vessel).
Section 408C: Fraud – if the amount in question is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 408E Computer hacking and misuse – If the offender causes a detriment or damage or obtains a benefit for any person to the value of more than $5,000, or intends to commit an indictable offence, and the offender does not plead guilty.
Chapter 38 Stealing with violence or extortion by threats – excluding sections 413 (Assault with intent to steal) and 414 (Demanding property with menaces with intent to steal).
Section 419 Burglary – if:
the offender uses or threatens to use actual violence;
the offender is or pretends to be armed;
the offender damages or threatens to damage any property by at least $30,000 in value and the offender does not plead guilty; or
the offender then commits an indictable offence in the dwelling.
the offender commits an indictable offence in the premises which must proceed on indictment; or
the offender enters by means of a break and the value of damage caused by the break is of at least $30,000.
Section 427 Unlawful entry of vehicle for committing indictable offence – if the offence is committed in the night or the offender uses or threatens violence, pretends to be armed, is in company or damages or threatens to damage any property.
Section 430 Fraudulent falsification of records – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 433 Receiving tainted property – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 435 Taking reward for recovery of property obtained by way of indictable offences – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Chapter 44 Offences analogous to stealing related to animals – if the value of the animals is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 468 Injuring animals– If the animal in question is stock, the value of the animals is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 469 Wilful damage – if any of the following apply:
property is damaged or destroyed by explosion;
the property in question is—(i) a bank or wall of the sea or inland water; or(ii) a work relating to a port or inland water; or
if the property in question is any part of a railway, or any work connected with a railway
If the property in question is an aircraft or anything whatever either directly or indirectly connected with the guidance control or operation of an aircraft
If the property in question is a vessel, a light, beacon, buoy, mark or signal used for navigation or for the guidance of sailors, a bank, work or wall of the sea or inland water
If the property in question is a manufacturing or agricultural machine or another thing used, or intended for use, for manufacture or for performing a process connected with the preparation of agricultural produce and is destroyed or rendered useless
If the property in question is a well or bore for water or the dam, bank, wall, or floodgate of a millpond or pool.
Section 471 Damaging mines – if the value of the damage is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 472 Interfering with marine signals – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 473 Interfering with navigation works – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 474 Communicating infectious diseases to animals – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 488 Forgery and uttering – if the document is a valuable security, insurance policy, testamentary instrument (whether the testator is living or dead) or registration document or is evidence of an interest in land, or a power of attorney, contract or document kept or issued by lawful authority OR the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
Section 498 Falsifying warrants for money payable under public authority – if the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
514 Personation in general – If the representation is that the offender is a person entitled by will or operation of law to any specific property, and the person commits the offence with intent to obtain such property or possession thereof or the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.
There a number of indictable offences in Queensland that can or must be dealt with summarily in the Magistrates Court. Generally speaking, an indictable offence must be dealt with summarily if it carries a maximum sentence of three years or less, or it is an offence under part 6 of the Code (excluding Chapter 42A) for which the monetary value is less than $30,000 or the offender pleads guilty, and the offender is liable for a maximum period of imprisonment which is less than 14 years imprisonment.
When considering whether an indictable offence could or should must be dealt with summarily, one should consider the following:
As the Magistrates Court deals with offences more quickly and can normally only sentence an offender for up to three years imprisonment, there are potential advantages for a defendant in having a matter dealt with summarily. However, such a course is subject to section 552D, which requires the Magistrate to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction if the offender may not be adequately sentenced or if there are exceptional circumstances.
In December of last year, controversial Catholic Church Cardinal George Pell was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16 over allegations of abusing choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s. This followed a previous trial that resulted in a hung jury.
The complainant said he and another choirboy left the liturgical procession at the end of one Sunday mass and went fossicking in the off-limits sacristy where they started swilling altar wine. Pell allegedly arrived unaccompanied, castigated them, and then, while fully robed in his copious liturgical vestments, proceeded to commit three sexual acts, including oral penetration of the complainant. The complainant said the sacristy door was wide open and altar servers were passing along the corridor. The complainant said he and the other boy then returned to choir practice.
Prior to both trials, Pell had been subject of substantial adverse pre-trial publicity, including a Royal Commission into child sex abuse, a book by Louise Milligan described as a hatchet job and an abusive song by Tim Minchin.
At common law, a person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law (Woolmington v DPP  AC 462; Howe v R (1980) 32 ALR 478). The presumption is not that the accused is not guilty, it is that the accused is innocent (R v Palmer (1992) 64 A Crim R 1).
The presumption of innocence has been enshrined in s25(1) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). The presumption of innocence is only relevant to the accused. It is a misdirection to tell the jury that witnesses are presumed to be innocent (Howe v R (1980) 32 ALR 478).
Section 141(1) of the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic) provides that:
“In a criminal proceeding, the court is not to find the case of the prosecution proved unless it is satisfied that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
Section 49B of the Crimes Act 2008 (Vic) provides that:
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) A intentionally—
(i) sexually penetrates another person (B);…
(b) B is a child under the age of 16 years.
(2) A person who commits an offence against subsection (1) is liable to level 4 imprisonment (15 years maximum).
“Here is why I don’t believe this gothic story — or not enough to think this conviction reasonable.
One of the boys, now dead, denied he’d been abused.
The other, whose identity and testimony remain secret, didn’t speak of it for many years.
The attack is meant to have happened straight after Mass, when Pell is known to have traditionally spoken to worshippers leaving Mass.
It allegedly happened in the sacristy, normally a very busy room, where Pell would have known people were almost certain to walk in.
The boys had allegedly slipped away from the procession after Mass to break into the sacristy, but none of the other choristers who gave evidence said they’d noticed them doing so, or noticed them rejoining the choir later.
Pell was normally followed everywhere during and after Mass by the master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, who testified that he escorted the then Archbishop from the moment he arrived at the cathedral, until the moment he left. He declared the assault impossible. Not a single witness from what was a busy cathedral at the time of the alleged abuse noticed a thing during the estimated 10 minutes of this alleged attack.”
“The second boy was once asked by his mother if he had ever been abused by anybody and he said he had not…
Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn cathedral mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied.
Witnesses familiar with liturgical vestments were called. They gave compelling evidence it was impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb. An alb is a long robe, worn under a heavier chasuble. It is secured and set in place by a cincture, which is like a tightly drawn belt. An alb cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped, the only openings being small slits on the side to allow access to trouser pockets.
The complainant’s initial claim to police was that Pell had parted his vestments, but an alb cannot be parted; it is like a seamless dress.
Later, the complainant said Pell moved the vestments to the side. An alb secured with a cincture cannot be moved to the side. The police never inspected the vestments during their investigations, nor did the prosecution show that the vestments could be parted or moved to the side as the complainant had alleged. The proposition that the offences charged were committed immediately after mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind.
I was very surprised by the verdict. In fact, I was devastated. My only conclusion is the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by Richter of the complainant’s evidence…
Pell has been in the public spotlight for a very long time. There are some who would convict him of all manner of things in the court of public opinion, no matter what the evidence. Others would never convict him of anything, holding him in the highest regard. The criminal justice system is intended to withstand these preconceptions. The system is under serious strain, when it comes to Pell.”
“The main institutions involved here are the media and the police. The media must report cases fairly, abide by the letter and spirit of the law, and not barrack for either side. The police present evidence impartially, working for justice, not conviction. Media and police never combine to form a pro-conviction cheer squad.
This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong. Impartial judge and jury accepted, parts of the media — notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists — have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia. They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.
Worse, elements of Victoria Police, including Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, co-operated in this. Ashton’s repeated announcements of impending charges and references to “victims” rather than “alleged victims” were matched only by the coincidences in timing between police pronouncements and favoured media exclusives…
So what we have witnessed is a combined effort by much of the media, including the public broadcaster, and elements of Victoria’s law enforcement agency, to blacken the name of someone before he went to trial…
This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail. It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”
“There have been two trials of Cardinal George Pell — in the court of justice to decide if he was guilty of sexual abuse of children, and in the court of public opinion over nearly two decades that saw him accused of indifference, deception and ultimately evil compliance in the monumental sins of the Catholic Church.
The tests in these trials are different. The test in the first trial was whether the evidence showed Pell guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” as a sexual predator who abused his authority to brutally exploit two choirboys. There is no test in the second trial — no judge or jury — just the hardening of opinion towards Pell and then his demonisation as the nation’s senior Catholic during the long and climactic revelations of unforgivable sexual abuse within the church.
The law requires these trials to be separate. Indeed, justice depends upon it. Yet how realistic is this?…
Pell cannot escape responsibility for the failures of the church but the sustained visceral hostility towards Pell transcends institutional accountability. The vile hatred towards him is worse than displayed towards a serial killer. Veteran lawyers said privately they had never seen anything like it in their careers. What does this tell us not just about Pell but about ourselves? The Pell story goes beyond the institutional and cultural failure of the Catholic Church. It is far bigger, more complicated and dangerous…
Pell arrived suddenly, censured them and then, with the sacristy door open, people passing in the corridor, and still in his heavy mass vestments including the alb, a long secured vestment without front buttons or zipper, proceeded to sexually assault the boys, whom he did not know, in an extremely brief period of time. There was no witness to support the complainant. The former choirboy’s evidence was given in secret. Brennan called the entire scenario “incredible”.”
“For many it is clear that Pell’s jailing is a watershed moment that has delivered some kind of catharsis, some sense that the system finally worked — perhaps even some sense of revenge. For many others — including the dead — it is far too little, far too late.
Certainly it has been clear from many responses, by survivors and commentators alike, that they see Pell as being punished for many other crimes on top of the one confirmed in the Victorian County Court.
But by conflating one incident at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the mid-1990s with the myriad atrocities committed by Catholic clergymen throughout the decades — including Pell’s own sins of omission — the sense of justice may be short lived.
As satisfying as it may be for victims of church abuse to see Pell punished, it is vital that he is punished for the right thing.”
If the above reports are true (and there are no important facts which would have supported the convictions), it seems likely that it was not open to the jury to be satisfied of Pell’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt and he should have his conviction overturned on appeal. It is unsurprising that legal experts assess Pell’s chances of having his conviction overturned on appeal as quite good.
Victoria (unlike NSW and QLD) does now allow for judge only trials. Serious consideration should be given to changing this, as the Pell case demonstrates the need for defendants who have received such awful pre-trial publicity to have their case tried in a way where such adverse publicity will not affect the result of the trial.
And given that this is the case, a successful appeal should probably lead to a verdict of not guilty being entered instead of another retrial.
Nicola Gobbo, the barrister at the centre of the scandal that sparked the Victorian Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants has been publicly identified, after orders made to conceal her identity were lifted today.
Ms Gobbo’s history:
“A former legal counsel to some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, Ms Gobbo is understood to have helped Victoria Police in at least 386 cases involving Melbourne’s underworld during her time acting as a paid police informant, following her initial recruitment in 1995.
The information she provided helped lead to the arrest and conviction of many, including some of her clients such as gangland boss Tony Mokbel, who in 2012 was sentenced to 30 years’ for his head role in the infamous multimillion-dollar drug syndicate known as ‘The Company’.
Following the December announcement that there would be a Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, largely centred around a female barrister who the public now knows to be Ms Gobbo, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC, wrote to 20 criminals — including Mokbel — to tell them their convictions may have been affected as a result of Ms Gobbo’s role in acting as a police informant.
“EF [the barrister’s pseudonym], while purporting to act as counsel for the convicted persons, provided information to Victoria Police that had the potential to undermine the convicted persons’ defences to criminal charges of which they were later convicted”, the December High Court judgment noted.
“EF’s actions in purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons while covertly informing against them were fundamental and appalling breaches of EF’s obligations as counsel to her clients and of EF’s duties to the court.
“Likewise, Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging EF to do as she did and were involved in sanctioning atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer to discharge all duties imposed on them faithfully and according to law without favour or affection, malice or ill-will.
“As a result, the prosecution of each convicted person was corrupted in a manner which debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system.”
In first announcing the royal commission, the Andrews government issued a statement, saying that the integrity of the criminal justice system is paramount, and all people charged with crimes are entitled to a fair trial, no matter who they are.
The same statement acknowledged that while Victoria Police assured the state government that “its practices have changed since the barrister’s recruitment as an informant”, the Victorian community “has a right to further independent assurance that these past practices have been stamped out, as well as an understanding of what happened in this instance”.
“The royal commission will provide that assurance,” the state government said.”
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic and formerly the third highest ranking official in the Vatican, was charged with historical child sex offences in June 2017.
In December of last year he was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
Due to a trial for further sex offences, a suppression order was made preventing the media in Australia from reporting on the matter.
That suppression order has now been lifted due to the dropping of charges against him related to the alleged indecent assault of boys at the Eureka swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s:
“Cardinal George Pell has become the world’s most senior Catholic official to be convicted of child sexual abuse, after a jury found him guilty of abusing two choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral just months into his appointment as Archbishop in 1996…
Some details of the allegations against him were made public in a committal hearing in March, 2018, but the criminal cases against him have proceeded in secret, due to court-ordered suppression orders.
Pell was tried twice over allegations of abusing choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s. The first trial in August resulted in a hung jury. At a second trial in December he was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
The December jury took three-and-a half days to find Pell guilty of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting his friend after Sunday Solemn Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.”
Father Frank Brennan is not sure the jury got it right. Unsurprisingly, an appeal against conviction has been filed.