George Pell’s case exposes Victoria’s biased criminal justice system


News earlier this week was dominated by the decision by the High Court to free Cardinal George Pell after overturning his conviction for historic child sex offences.

One of the most intriguing questions raised by this important case is how Victoria’s criminal justice system allowed the case against Cardinal Pell to proceed so far on evidence which, according to the unanimous view of all seven High Court judges, could not support a guilty verdict.

As many lawyers are pointing out, from the start of the case very few dispassionate observers thought the charges against Pell could stick. Greg Craven, professor of law and vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, writing in The Australian, explained that despite the implausible evidence, many people “hated Pell so much they did not care, said he certainly was guilty of other crimes anyway or that he was the right person to be punished for the general crimes of Catholic clergy.”

Legal affairs editor at The Australian, Chris Merritt, made very telling points about the outcome of this case in exposing the “institutional flaws in Victoria that will tarnish Australian justice in the eyes of the world.”

Flaws that include special rules in sexual assault cases which allow evidence to be withheld that could have helped exonerate the accused – as happened with George Pell.

Merritt explained: “The Pell jury was never told that the complainant had a history of psychological problems that required treatment. Nor were they told that Pell’s legal team was rebuffed in court — in the absence of the jury — when they attempted to gain access to records showing the extent of this man’s psychological problems.” Merritt pointed out that this episode is outlined in the special leave application that was filed in the High Court by Pell’s legal team. During the trial, it would have been a contempt of court for anyone to reveal this incident.

This is only one example of changes to criminal law in Victoria introduced with the admirable goal of protecting complainants in sexual assault cases, changes which have resulted in the state becoming “one of the world’s most gender-biased and anti-male jurisdictions in the world,” according to a retired associate professor of law from Deakin University,  Kenneth Arenson.

In 2016 I wrote an article quoting Arenson’s description of the way Victorian rape law had been influenced by a feminist law professor, resulting in all sorts of “pernicious reforms”  including  “rape shield laws limiting a defendant’s long-­entrenched common-law right to put before a court all legally ­admissible evidence that helps to show they are not guilty of the ­alleged crime.”

These laws not only were influential in George Pell’s wrongful conviction but put in jeopardy the legal rights of every man accused of sexual assault in Victoria.

Those of you with a legal background or scholarly bent might like to look at two extremely detailed papers Arensen put together outlining what he sees as this unfair corruption of the Victorian legal system. The Demise of Equality Before the Law and When Some People are More Equal Than Others.

It’s not just powerful men like George Pell whose liberty is at risk when equality before the law no longer matters.

Ignoring the biggest risk factor for COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus is killing twice as many men as women in New York, reported The Age this week in a well-buried story. “Physicians working at hospitals throughout the city say the gender disparity is stark and impossible to miss,” wrote the reporter.

This vital fact about corona virus deaths may be impossible to miss but since we are talking about the disposable sex it is just not a big story.

Instead, the focus remains firmly on women, with endless articles appearing lamenting the impact of COVID-19 on women’s lives – particularly the alleged risks of increased domestic violence during the lockdown. Note this neat side-stepping from The Age earlier in the week when they discovered family violence experts were reporting calls for help had plunged by up to 30 percent during the current crisis. Here’s their neat explanation: “They believe the drop is due to victims finding it difficult to safely call for help while they are stuck at home with their abusers”.

Then there was last month’s piece in The Atlantic suggesting that coronavirus will send many couples back to the 1950s. “Across the world, women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic,” wrote Helen Lewis on March 19.

How good to see Marilyn Simon’s sensible response, just published in Quillette – “No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism”’

Simon takes on Helen Lewis’s assumption that caring for family members is denigrating for women. “Why would anyone find a family unit taking care of its members a ‘disaster’ for feminism? How childish—and frankly un-feminine—has feminism become that it must see child-rearing and nurturing a family unit as a step down during a time of crisis.”

Simon continues: “Contemporary feminism (of which Lewis is apparently an adherent) seems to require the denigration of home economics and child rearing. This is both unnecessary and, in a time of crisis, particularly unhelpful and narrow-minded”.

I am sure many people will find this thoughtful, carefully argued article a refreshing change from the tedious bilge emerging from so much of mainstream media’s coverage of women in the current crisis.

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