Australian media organisations and journalists went on trial yesterday on charges they breached a gag order on reporting about Cardinal George Pell’s sexual abuse convictions in 2018 that have since been overturned. Source: Crux.
A total of 18 individual journalists, editors and broadcasters face potential prison sentences and 12 organisations face fines if they are found guilty in the Victoria state Supreme Court of breaching a judge’s suppression order on Cardinal Pell’s case. They have all pleaded not guilty.
Judge John Dixon is hearing the trial without a jury and via video links due to pandemic restrictions. The trial is expected to take two to three weeks.
Such suppression orders are common in the Australian and British judicial systems. But the enormous international interest in an Australian criminal trial with global ramifications highlighted the difficulty in enforcing such orders in the digital age.
Cardinal Pell was convicted on December 11, 2018, of sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s. The High Court quashed all convictions in April, after Cardinal Pell spent 13 months in jail.
The 2018 trial had not been reported in the news media at the time because of a suppression order that forbid publication of details in any format that could be accessed from Australia. Details were suppressed to prevent prejudicing jurors in a second trial that Cardinal Pell was to face three months later. That second trial was cancelled due to a lack of evidence.