Australian media trial over Pell reporting to continue in January

Former Vatican treasurer George Pell arrives after travelling for first time since he was acquitted of child sex abuse charges in Australia, at Rome's Fiumicino Airport

An Australian court on Friday dismissed eight out of 87 contempt of court charges against media on their reporting of ex-Vatican treasurer George Pell’s 2018 conviction for child sex assault.

The trial on the remaining 79 charges that media breached a suppression order on reporting of the cardinal’s conviction will continue in January, Supreme Court of Victoria Justice John Dixon said.

Pell was convicted in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choirboys, but reporting on the trial and its outcome was gagged by the County Court of Victoria to ensure the cardinal received a fair trial on further charges he was due to face.

The second case was later dropped and Pell’s conviction was quashed by the High Court of Australia in April this year.

Local media did not report the December 2018 verdict, but after overseas media reported the news, naming Pell and the charges, Australian media ran stories saying they were unable to report major news regarding an unnamed high profile figure, and flagged the news was accessible online.

Australian media were charged after that for contempt of court.

Following the prosecutor’s opening at trial in November, lawyers for the media had asked the court to throw out the whole case, or dismiss charges against six journalists as they were not responsible for publishing their articles, or dismiss charges against media outside the state of Victoria.

The submissions to dismiss the charges against the six journalists were withdrawn by the media’s lawyers, Dixon said.

Dixon threw out the “sub judice” contempt charges against News Corp’s Courier Mail and Daily Telegraph, and Nine Entertainment’s Sydney Morning Herald and 2GB Radio and the four editors associated with those.

He said those newspapers and radio station did not have wide enough circulation in Victoria to taint potential jurors in Melbourne for Pell’s second trial.

However, charges they face for breaching the suppression order remain.

He rejected the submission to throw out the whole case, saying that the prosecution had established that there is a case to answer, even though none of the publications named Pell.

“For these reasons, I am satisfied that the applicant’s case is capable of establishing that a real risk of prejudice to the due administration of justice…would be evident to the hypothetical ordinary reasonable reader from the content of the impugned publications,” Dixon said in his ruling.

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