On Tuesday, the High Court overturned George Pell’s conviction. This wasn’t just a victory for Cardinal Pell. It wasn’t just a victory for Catholics, or Christians, or Conservatives. It was a victory for all of us.
Pell, it appears, was convicted despite the fact that there was, in the words of the High Court, “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”
That doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit other crimes or that he wasn’t complicit in covering up other crimes. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t a bad person or that he doesn’t hold views which others find objectionable.
What it does mean, is that at 78 years of age, he spent a year of his life in solitary confinement, when there is “reasonable doubt” that he didn’t commit the crime he was accused of.
What is more, when the the conviction is overturned, and when the High court at 7 – 0 releases the accused from prison it means that he has been found innocent of the crime.
Had his conviction not been overturned, he might have rotted for the rest of his life in there.
The reason that is important is because you DO NOT EVER want to live in a society where people can be tried and punished for crimes which haven’t been proven “beyond reasonable doubt.”
You certainly don’t want to live in a society where people can be tried and convicted on the accusation of one other person without any corroborating evidence as appears to have happened to George Pell.
These are bedrock principles of English Common Law and have been for centuries. They have been adopted by all other civilised countries – and with very good reason.
You may think that this could never happen to you. You might think that you are a good person. Perhaps you have never been in a property boundary dispute with someone who is powerful or well connected.
Let me tell you, that these things can happen – and they can happen to you.
Perhaps you don’t realise just how powerful the State is. They have the manpower, they have guns, police, soldiers. You don’t stand a chance against the State.
They can fine you into poverty. They can imprison you or execute you. There are rumours that the Chinese State is amputating the organs of prisoners without anaesthetic and then leaving them to die in excruciating agony.
There, but for the grace of God go you.
Thinking that someone may have gotten away with horrible crimes may be galling. Despite that, it is imperative that the State should not have the power to punish people for crimes that cannot be proven “beyond reasonable doubt.”
That is one pandora’s box you don’t want to open.
Ordinary folk don’t always grasp the importance of concepts such as this. It is disturbing to talk to people who think that Pell should have been made to suffer because of crimes (often horrible crimes) which were committed by others in the Church.
Some think he may have covered up the crimes of others or have been guilty himself. If he did – and it can be proven BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT – then he should be punished. But not otherwise.
In the past, our elites, and particularly our legal elites, did understand this principle. What is more, they were prepared to defend it.
Today, we have Julia Gillard tweeting that the decision raised “some pretty big questions.” Like “Did we learn as a nation from the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse?” and “Is it worth survivors coming forward to seek justice?”
Gillard is a former Prime Minister and a former lawyer. When elitists like her are no longer prepared to defend our bedrock principles (or don’t even appear to understand them), is it any wonder that our society is breaking down in so many important ways?
A fish rots from the head down.
You may remember the case of the “Catch the Fire” ministries where Daniel Scott, a friend of mine from Pakistan, and Danny Nalia were convicted in Victoria of insulting Islam.
This was despite the fact that the court could find nothing untruthful about what they had said, and that Islam is not a person, but a belief system.
If we should have a Royal Commission into anything, it should be the Victorian Courts which have become hopelessly politicised and corrupted to the point where they have abandoned bedrock legal principles.