“It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.”
George Pell on the abuse of children by Gerald Risdale.
When John Howard was asked about the detention of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay without charges for over five years, he expressed the view that the presumption of innocence doesn’t matter because “we know that he’s guilty.” Exactly what he was guilty of was a little less clear. We were constantly told that he couldn’t be charged because whatever he’d done wasn’t against any laws at the time he did it but he was guilty anyway and, as such, not entitled to legal protection…
George Pell, on the other hand, should never have had charges laid, according to Mr Howard. In fact, according to Peter Dutton, Pell’s conviction “should provide some cause for reflection for the Victorian Labor Government and its institutions that led this modern-day political persecution.” I guess he was ok with the second case that the police decided to drop before it went to trial.
Pell is dead and unless the High Court rules differently, he’ll stay dead. While the death of a person usually means that people adopt the idea that we should celebrate their lives and if you can’t say anything good about them, then don’t say anything at all. In George’s case, the effusive praise has been countered by some incredibly nasty vitriol by people who are upset by the fact that the man was a staunch conservative who placed the Catholic Church above everything. That, and his apparently blind eye to all the sexual abuse going on around him.
While all those are saying how terrible it was that Pell spent that time in jail, I wonder if any of them are pausing to consider whether he would still be alive if he’d stayed there. After all, even if he’d still had the hip surgery, he’d have been having it in a different place, at a different time and it may not have had complications. Still, I guess we can never know these things and we just have to have faith that God moves in mysterious ways…
Of course, when it comes to the charges that led to his conviction, we have to accept that he was an innocent man. The High Court said so, and if we don’t respect the way the law works, well, you end up like John Howard and Peter Dutton arguing that certain people have rights because we agree with them, while others don’t.
In Dutton’s case one has to wonder how on earth he can link it to Dan Andrews? In Australia, we have the separation of power and the police do not have to ask permission to investigate high profile people. Neither do they have to ask permission from politicians to lay charges if they feel they have the evidence to convict. Do we infer from Dutton that when he was head of Border Force that, if the AFP had come to him and said they had been asked to investigate a Minister for possible fraud, that he would have said, “No, I can vouch for him and tell you that he’s not guilty!”?
The presumption of innocence is an important aspect of our judicial system and we need to respect the fact that it gives us rights under the law that have been denied to people throughout the ages. When you don’t like that fact that a particular person wasn’t found guilty, you need to remember that you’re still allowed to dislike them. And you can harbour your suspicion that they were very lucky. But if they’re still alive you can’t say that they’re guilty without potentially attracting a defamation case.
It’s also true that they haven’t been exonerated or found innocent. The day-to-day discussions tend to gloss over this and allow the defendant to make statements like: “I told you that I didn’t do it and I’m pleased that I’ve been completely exonerated.”
In all the following cases, the person is not guilty under the law:
- Jeffrey Epstein because he was still awaiting a trial when he was found hanged in his cell. (Ok, he had been found guilty of other charges years earlier, but legally he wasn’t convicted of the later ones.)
- When an underworld figure is charged with a crime but all the witnesses mysteriously disappear.
- Donald Trump for fraud, insurrection and a range of crimes against good taste.
- If the rest of the bottle of wine disappears and my wife doesn’t believe my explanation about quantum mechanics and evaporation but accuses me of drinking it while she was walking the dog.
You can form your own judgement about any of these things. It’s just not legally valid until there’s a trial and the police have shown little interest in investigating the missing wine.
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