SYDNEY — Australia has entered a new phase that could see any Australian consigned to imprisonment without any evidence for crimes they have not committed, warned the author of a new book on the trial and imprisonment of Cardinal George Pell.
Keith Windschuttle, a former Australian Broadcasting Corp. board member who is also the editor of Quadrant magazine, warned that “within the ideological imperatives that prevail today, any one of us could become a George Pell.”
“It was as if Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ had moved from the Czech Republic and relocated to Melbourne,” Windschuttle said at the launch of his book, The Persecution of George Pell, in Sydney Dec. 10.
“Any one of us could now be accused by strangers of reprehensible behavior and then find the weight of the nation’s structures of law, government and public opinion piled on top of us,” he warned.
The 408-page book catalogues and explores a surreal pattern of inconsistencies and intrigues in the Pell case, which saw a leading global church figure accused of sexual abuse and, despite no evidence being presented, ultimately jailed.
Pell “was lucky to be saved at the last minute by his only remaining hope, the judges of the Australian High Court,” he said. “They retained enough independence and integrity to see the truth of the case as it was.”
However, he warned, “there are no guarantees that future members of the High Court will act as credibly as those who acquitted Pell.”
Windschuttle described the process, which included Victorian Police advertising to seek accusations against the cardinal, and the progress of his trial, conviction and failed appeal as a reflection of decaying integrity in the lower echelons of legal structures in the Australian state of Victoria.
“The whole case was based on a fundamental overturning of traditions of law,” he said. “There wasn’t a presumption of innocence — there was a presumption of guilt.
“Pell had to provide enough evidence to prove he was innocent.”
Meanwhile, the legal process was arguably interfered with in a “trial by media” phenomenon, with journalists believing their opinions to be above the proper processes of criminal justice, the author said.
He said even after the High Court unanimously declared Pell innocent, journalists have continued to act as if its decision was of minimal importance or in error.
The author was especially critical of Australia’s national taxpayer-funded broadcaster.
“These ABC journalists write as if they got it right and it’s the High Court who are wrong — as if they are superior to the High Court,” he said. “But if you read (its decision), the High Court decision is utterly scathing of the whole case, shaming the lawyers who went along with it.”
The former ABC board member criticized the current state of journalism in the nation.
“I am of the conclusion that the ABC is unreformable,” he said, “but no foreseeable government would have the courage to initiate accountability in this area.”
He said the case was symptomatic of a far wider problem in Australian life.
“(Harmful) ideological forces now dominate our education systems, especially universities, and they have also infected our news media, our police and even our defense forces.”
Anyone who falls out of favor with the public zeitgeist could potentially have no recourse to a fair legal process which is due to all Australians, he warned.
“As the Pell case proves beyond doubt, these forces have also woven threads into our legal systems and have changed both the law itself and the assumptions of many people within the legal system,” he said.