Pell’s appeal has been dismissed by the Victoria Court of Appeal in a majority verdict of 2:1.

The decision has been described as “one of the most significant judgments in Australian legal history”.

The decision means that Pell will return to prison, where he will remain until at least October 2022.



In December 2018 George Pell became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be found guilty of child sexual abuse.

The verdict was originally suppressed in Australia in anticipation of a second criminal trial, which the DPP later abandoned. The suppression order was then lifted in February 2019. 

In March 2019 Pell was sentenced to six years imprisonment (with a non-parole period of 3 years, 8 months). The factors that influenced Pell’s sentencing can be read about in more detail here.  

Pell then appealed to the Victoria Court of Appeal.

The Appeal Points

Pell’s appeal relied on three arguments:

  1. Pell’s plea of ‘not guilty’ was not made in the presence of the jury;
  2. Pell’s defence team were prohibited from producing a “visual representation” of its arguments to the jury during their final address; and
  3. The jury’s verdict was “unreasonable or could not be supported having regard to the evidence”.

The first two appeal points were procedural issues, which the defence argued had resulted in a “substantial miscarriage of justice”.

The third argument was the most compelling. It was a direct challenge to the strength of the evidence that was presented to the jury. Pell’s legal team argued that Pell could not have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented during the trial.

What Did The Judges Decide?

Pell’s appeal was unsuccessful; however, the decision was not unanimous.  

While the first two arguments were unanimously rejected, the judges were split on the third appeal point. It was accepted by one judge but rejected by the other two.

The dissenting judge was Justice Weinberg. His Honour was of the view that “there was significant and, in some places, impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant’s account was, in a realistic sense, impossible to accept”.

The full judgment can be read here.

How Did The Judges Make Their Decision?

As was explained by Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, the task for the Appeal Court was to decide whether, on the whole of the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Pell was guilty.

The judges viewed recordings from the trial, which consisted of approximately 30 hours of footage. They consulted 2,000 pages of court transcripts and visited the location where the attacks occurred.

It took two months for the judges to review the evidence and deliver their decision.

Is The Case Over?

Despite Wednesday’s decision, we still don’t know if we’ve seen the end of this case. 

Pell’s legal team released a statement on Wednesday outlining that they would thoroughly examine the judgment to determine whether they will seek special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

Can Pell Appeal To The High Court?

There is no right to appeal to the High Court of Australia. An appeal to the High Court will only eventuate if the court grants the applicant permission to appeal.

Appeals to the High Court are regulated by section 35A of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). When deciding whether to grant leave to appeal, the High Court will have regard to a number of factors, including:

  • Whether the case involves a question of law that is of public importance;
  • Whether the case involves a question of law in respect of which a decision of the High Court, as the final appellate court, is required to resolve differences of opinion between different courts as to the state of the law;
  • Whether the interests of the administration of justice, either generally or in the particular case, require consideration by the High Court of the judgment to which the application relates.

Appeals to the High Court are usually filed within 28 days of judgment.

The appeals process can be a complex area of law to navigate. If you need advice or representation regarding a criminal appeal, contact Hamilton Janke Lawyers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 4038 1666.

Written By
James Janke
James Janke

James Janke is founding partner at Hamilton Janke Lawyers, and has more then decade of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. Admitted to both the Supreme Court of New South Wales and High Court of Australia

Reviewed By
Drew Hamilton
Drew Hamilton

Drew Hamilton is founding partner at Hamilton Janke Lawyers. Admitted to the Supreme Court of New South Wales as a Solicitor and also listed on the High Court of Australia register.