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Ex-Vatican treasurer Pell to learn fate on child sex offences appeal

Ex-Vatican treasurer Pell to learn fate on child sex offences appeal
George Pell arrives at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, August 21, 2019. AAP Images/Erik Anderson via REUTERS -
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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Jailed former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell will head to court on Wednesday to hear the outcome of his appeal against child sex offence convictions, and if he wins he could immediately walk free.

Victoria’s Court of Appeal is set to hand down its decision on Pell’s appeal in Melbourne at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday (2330 GMT on Tuesday). Supreme Court of Victoria Chief Justice Anne Ferguson will read out a summary of the decision, which will also be live-streamed.

Pell, 78, was sentenced in March to six years in prison after a jury found him guilty of five sexual offences against two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s, when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

The cardinal, who has maintained his innocence ever since facing the allegations in 2016, is the most senior Catholic cleric worldwide to have been jailed for child sex offences.

The court will first announce whether or not the application to appeal the convictions was granted. Having already held two days of hearings on the appeal in June, that declaration is seen as a formality.

The key rulings will be on the three grounds of the appeal. The main ground was that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable. If Pell is successful on that ground, he will be released immediately and his criminal record will be erased.

The other two grounds were more technical: whether the trial judge was wrong to have blocked the defence lawyers from showing a video animation in their closing arguments they said would have shown there were too many people around for the offences to have occurred, and whether Pell should have entered his plea in front of potential jurors rather than by a video link in the courthouse.

If Pell wins on either of those two grounds, the court could quash his conviction, order a retrial and legal observers expect Pell would probably be released on bail. It would be up to the Crown to decide then whether it wants to retry the case.

Legal experts have said that whatever the outcome, the decision is likely to be appealed to Australia’s High Court. Pell’s lawyers have not said how they would respond if they lost the appeal.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by John Mair and Howard Goller)

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