Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Further reflections on the case of Cardinal Pell

I have posted twice about the release of Cardinal Pell and reflecting upon it and the interview he gave to Andrew Bolt I am minded to expand further on aspects of the handling of the legal process.

I should state that I am not a lawyer, but have some historical understanding of how the British system and its derivatives in countries such as Australia have developed. I am not based in Australia nor have I followed the case in detail. Those points made I was struck by the force of Bolt’s argument, as a reporter and commentator, that the Australian media, notably the national broadcaster ABC, the Victoria Police and the courts in Victoria need to undergo self-examination or investigation by independent assessors about their behaviour. 

This does look to have been a prosecution which was media driven and media sustained, and where the coverage was entirely one-sided. The Cardinal was deemed guilty by many before he ever came to trial. The scenes of him almost being mobbed by hostile protesters outside court buildings do not reflect well on the management of the hearings.

It looks again as if the police and prosecutors decided he was guilty in advance, shutting their ears, eyes and frankly their common sense to any evidence to the contrary. That approach seems to have affected the first two trials and the Victoria appeal. The sole complainant seems to have been believed unquestionably. Much of the evidence considered appears to have been demonstrably implausible in the extreme, yet considered it was, with no pause to reflect upon its credibility.

Such a miscarriage of justice is bad for the victim and for the system. Australia is a sophisticated modern nation under the rule of law, and that such a situation could come about is all the more disturbing than in, alas, some other parts of the world. That should give very real cause for concern to the political and legal establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia. Something needs to be done about what allowed this to happen, and to be done at the highest levels.

Such a case has few parallels in modern times, although miscarriages of justice do happen it seems far too frequently. What comes to my mind is that this may be for Australia what the Dreyfus case was for France. Here again someone “must” be guilty because well, they “must, must n’t they”....

There are other disturbing parallels that relate to the Cardinal’s case. Cardinals do not in modern times usually or commonly end up in prison. In the Anglophone world one might think of St John Fisher in the 1530s, but not since.

However there are much more modern and disturbing parallels where Cardinals did suffer imprisonment after “show trials”, and the Pell prosecution looks very much like a “show trial” in a number of respects. The later 1940s witnessed the cases of Cardinals Josyf Slipyj of Ukraine, Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary, Aloysius_Stepinac of Croatia, Josef Beran of Czechoslovakia, and Stefan Wyszynski of Poland. 

Does Australia really wish to see its legal processes ranked alongside those of Stalinist rule and do Australians wish to see their country behave in such a way? I cannot imagine that to be the case.

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