'Bazooka-size hole', Pell media case told

Karen Sweeney
·2-min read

There's a "devastating, bazooka-size hole" in the theory behind the prosecution of journalists for reporting on Cardinal George Pell's abuse convictions, defence lawyers believe.

Media lawyers defending more than two dozen reporters and media organisations over breaches of suppression orders and other reporting rules in the days after the cardinal's 2018 conviction say the prosecution case must fail.

Cardinal Pell was acquitted by the High Court earlier this year, but two years on a civil case is continuing around articles published in the days after a jury's guilty verdict was handed down.

On Friday barristers Will Houghton QC and Matt Collins QC teamed up on an argument that, if accepted by Justice John Dixon, would lead to charges being dismissed against all accused.

Dr Collins said the prosecution case was "very narrow" and relied on each of the publications and broadcasts in question having a tendency to encourage readers, listeners or viewers to go online where they would find one of 35 international articles which named Cardinal Pell.

Every charge would fail unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that all or some of the overseas articles could be found with simple online searches by people who read, saw or heard the stories at the centre of the case.

Prosecutors waited four days before doing a Google search that turned up four overseas news articles - all which post-date most of the Australian articles.

Other searches were done in late December. Dr Collins said one search for "gag order Australia" was an example of confirmation bias.

"The overseas articles are overwhelmingly American and the search is conducted using an Americanism that is not common in Australia," Dr Collins said.

Eight further searches found no overseas articles at all.

In order for guilty findings, the judge would have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there was a real and definite risk that because media outlets had encouraged people to do online searches and they then found online articles, that potential jurors in Melbourne would become aware Cardinal Pell had been convicted.

"This is a devastating, bazooka-size hole in the case theory behind all of these charges," he said.

But crown prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari disputed that their case was so narrow.

She said there were also clear allegations that the articles in question had breached suppression orders.

Ms De Ferrari pointed specifically to allegations that the Herald Sun had published information "derived from the trials" - which was specifically prohibited by a suppression order.

That information included that a person had been "convicted" of a "serious crime", had been "found guilty in the Victorian County Court" and that they were "due to face court for a separate trial in March".

The case continues next week.