On the evening of Monday 16 September 2019 at a Melbourne bookshop, Allen & Unwin launched Fallen: The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell by Lucie Morris-Marr.
Next day, Pell’s legal team lodged at the High Court Melbourne Registry the long-anticipated Application for Special Leave to Appeal which constitutes George Pell’s last arena of argument against his 2018 conviction on 5 counts of ‘historical’ crimes against minors.
This is not to suggest that, because the release of the book occurred before the lodgement of the Appeal documents, a causative connection exists. Post hoc ergo propter hoc – a fallacious form of reasoning: before therefore because… merely to say that limitations apply in the conduct of judicial affairs and, for Pell, now resident in care of Corrections Victoria, aka prison, time is running-out. It has been long-since signalled that Pell, maintaining his ‘innocence’, will exhaust every available remedy, and this is his last resort.
Observers, like this writer, who calculate that the next appeal has ‘a snowflake’s chance in Hell’ of being heard let alone of success, might have to reconsider if the Appeal books, due within two months, develop lines of argument drawn from the extensive dissenting judgement in the Court of Appeal (Victoria) of Mark Weinberg JA.
It is thought to be just possible there could be a result in the matter before Christmas. Failing that, the schedule extends into 2020 and, by March, the Applicant shall have served 12 months, or more than a third of his ameliorated, nearly 4-year sentence. The man who emerges from that experience, whether upon release after Appeal or on parole, is, already, not the man who submitted to due process in 2017.
Lucie Morris-Marr’s book is an exciting, sometimes breathtaking account of the way Pell’s convictions were, eventually, obtained, and of how much of that determined commitment to the rule of law and to a fair trial meant detailed, extensive control exercised over ‘media organizations’ during the process.
The experiences of an ethical-minded, Quaker-educated journalist contending within and beyond those ‘media organizations’ (the term derives from The Open Courts Act (Vic) – whether domestic or international, and of ensuring compliance both at home and abroad with judicial management of those same media aka control of ‘non-publication’ – makes for unique insights into the Pell trials. Lucie Morris-Marr’s prose is a pleasure to read. Fast-paced it is also comprehensive narrative and thoughtful insight. She conveys well the interesting ‘Pell-pack’ mentality which emerged as reporters shared the experience of writing and filing for ‘non-publication’ – generating a hybrid media culture of mixed competitiveness and co-operation evolved out of mutually-felt necessity and difficulty.
Lucie Morris-Marr is a senior writer with broad, quality media experience. By scrupulous professional attention to sources, and follow-up fact-checking, she became, a few years ago, ‘the first journalist in the world to find out that Victoria Police/Task Force Sano were investigating Cardinal Pell. ‘And nobody knew’ she writes. ‘It hadn’t leaked.’ Fallen … is the result of the turbulence which followed this ‘scoop’ – and is, as Chrissie Foster AM has written : ‘a globally important book.’ Much of its allure is that it is not the last word on this controversial topic, but it is the first serious account of it to emerge since the 2018 verdict.
Rosemary O’Grady is a lawyer and writer