Cardinal George Pell is a free man.

The most (in)famous legal case in Australia since the Chamberlain trials in 1982 has likewise ended in vindication for the accused.

Cardinal George Pell will walk free after 405 days in jail after the High Court on Tuesday ruled in his favour[…]

It took High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel only about a minute to deliver the history-making decision.

She said special leave was granted, the appeal allowed, and that the Victorian Court of Appeal’s earlier decision be set aside. In its place, his conviction was quashed.

The High Court ruled 7-0 in Pell’s favour.

This is an emphatic repudiation of the conviction and rejection of appeal in Victoria. The fact that the full bench of the High Court, who are otherwise sometimes sharply divided on ideological lines, unanimously quashed the conviction vindicates the near-unanimous opinions of legal observers across the political spectrum in characterising the pursuit, trial and conviction of Pell as a formalised witch-hunt.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place[…]there is a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted.”[…]

Cardinal Pell will be told by his lawyers and he will leave Barwon Prison soon.

The High Court’s decision is no surprise to legal experts who have followed the case closely. The only real surprise was that he was ever convicted in the first place, and even more so that his first appeal was rejected.

The decision[…]will unleash an extraordinary reaction in the Australian and Catholic communities.

Pell, 78[…]is a reviled figure among the abuse survivor community, a divisive leader of the Australian church but loved by his inner sanctum, including many powerful Australians from John Howard and Tony Abbott down.

As a side-note, this decision is a vindication of Tony Abbott’s character as well. Abbott was publicly reviled for standing by Pell – in fact, Abbott should stand justified for staunchly standing by a friend in his darkest hour and in the face of overwhelming public opprobrium.

Like Lindy Chamberlain, George Pell became a Goldstein figure, a target of public hatred and vitriol. Like Lindy Chamberlain, there will certainly be many people who will never accept his acquittal. Chamberlain, it was once said, was convicted for “being frumpy in public and refusing to weep on cue”. Pell was convicted of being an abrasive Catholic conservative and refusing to embrace the new orthodoxy of rainbow progressivism.

The question now remains whether those who so vigorously pursued what has been described as a witch-hunt will be held to account. The publicly-funded ABC, especially some of its senior journalists, should face a harsh reckoning for running a vicious smear campaign. Victoria Police – their reputation already in tatters after a series of scandals like the “Lawyer X” revelations – must be held to account for setting up its so-called “Get Pell Squad” and effectively advertising for complaints. Indeed, the entire Victorian legal system should be embarrassed by this whole sorry affair.

Should be…but almost certainly won’t. The ABC will carry on as it always does, shielded from all consequences by its own impenetrable wall of smugness. The legal pursuit of Pell will almost certainly continue by other means – chiefly by means of civil actions, which have a much lower threshold of proof than a criminal trial. The Pell-haters are already lining up.

Whatever happens, Pell’s career and public life have been effectively destroyed.

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