Pell contempt trial begins two years on

Karen Sweeney
·2-min read

A Victorian judge has slammed prosecutors for their disorganisation at the beginning of a trial against media organisations over reports on Cardinal George Pell's now overturned abuse convictions.

The contempt trial against 30 media organisations, journalists, editors and commentators began in Victoria's Supreme Court on Monday.

But prosecutors still haven't confirmed what documents will be used in evidence in the case.

The media are facing a combined 100 charges of contempt over publications of stories alluding to the conviction of a high profile Australian for unnamed charges, which prosecutors allege was in breach of a suppression order and other court rules.

Cardinal Pell was convicted of five child sexual abuse charges in December 2018 but publication was prohibited in Australia until February 2019.

The convictions were quashed by the High Court earlier this year. Cardinal Pell returned to Sydney hours after being released from prison in Victoria and has since travelled to Rome.

Justice John Dixon's frustrations boiled over on Monday afternoon, prompting a telling off of prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari.

"I don't understand why (nearly) two years after this case has started I still don't get a clear list of the documents being tendered. It's unbelievable," he said.

Ms De Ferrari spent the day going through a series of documents including emails between journalists, editors and lawyers about their decisions to publish.

In one email Selma Milovanovic, The Age's weekday print editor said she was "totally against" publishing the story and noted convictions of serial killer Peter Dupas had gone unpublished for years because of suppression orders.

Her boss, editor Alex Lavelle said he was sympathetic with her point, but ultimately disagreed.

"I think one of the things that is different now is that the stories are everywhere and easily accessible," he wrote.

"We are not breaching the suppression order, just explaining why we can't report on the story."

Matt Collins QC is representing The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, Business Insider, 2GB, Channel Nine and Mamamia.

Will Houghton QC is representing a number of News Corp individuals, websites and newspapers in the case, including the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Geelong and Adelaide Advertisers and the Weekly Times.

Among the News Corp articles challenged is one titled "The story we can't report on".

It went on to say that a "high profile Australian known across the world has been convicted of a serious crime but the details cannot be published by any media in the country".

The trial is expected to last 10 to 15 days.