High Court weighs details of witness testimony

The High Court of Australia in Canberra (HIgh Court website)

The High Court is weighing up the importance of watching the testimony of Cardinal George Pell’s victim compared to just reading the transcript. Source: The Australian.

By Tessa Akerman, The Australian.

The court requested submissions on the issue this month and released the response from Cardinal Pell’s legal team on Wednesday.

Cardinal Pell’s barristers, Bret Walker SC and Ruth Shann, argue the majority opinion of the Victorian Court of Appeal last year took the wrong approach in assessing the impact of the demeanour of witnesses whose evidence was viewed.

The Court of Appeal sought submissions on this topic last year indicating it intended to view video recordings of the trial evidence of the victim and three other witnesses.

“The applicant submitted that … there was no necessity to watch any video recordings because the complaint of the applicant on appeal did not depend on the manner in which any witness gave evidence,” Cardinal Pell’s counsel said in their High Court submissions.

“In particular, it was submitted that no matter how favourable a view was taken of the manner that the complainant gave evidence, it was not open to the jury, acting rationally, to conclude that the prosecution had eliminated all reasonable doubt due to the combined effect of the unchallenged evidence of other witnesses.”

The appellate court ended up conducting a view of St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the abuse took place, and video recordings of 12 witnesses.

Cardinal Pell’s counsel argue the Court of Appeal majority, chief judge Anne Ferguson and the president of the court Chris Maxwell, substantially based their conclusion on their favourable view of the victim’s manner.

“Many of the other matters considered by the majority to affect the complainant’s credibility were either viewed by the majority as not detracting from the favourable perception they had of his demeanour or are interpreted through the lens of having concluded he is credible and reliable because of his demeanour,” they said.

Dissenting judge Mark Weinberg found the victim’s manner of giving evidence less compelling.

“Weinberg JA noted the risks of giving too much credence to matters such as demeanour when evaluating the evidence of a witness,” Cardinal Pell’s legal team said.

The High Court hearing is listed for March 11 and 12


George Pell: High Court weighs details of witness testimony (The Australian)

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