5th March 2019 | Royce Millar, Chris Vedelago, Adam Cooper | The Sydney Morning Herald
Leading criminal barrister Robert Richter will not be in George Pell’s legal team for the appeal against the Cardinal’s conviction for child sex offences, partly because he was too emotionally involved in the case and angry at the guilty verdict.
Mr Richter QC told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that he felt he did not have “sufficient objectivity at this stage” to participate in the challenge set to be heard in Victoria’s Court of Appeal.
“I am very angry about the verdict,” he said, “because it was perverse”.
However, he has denied that he "quit" the legal team, and said if need be, he was available to be consulted.
Mr Richter said Cardinal Pell, who has been convicted of five counts of sexually assaulting two choir boys in St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997, would be “better served by someone more detached”.
“I think the man is an innocent man and he’s been convicted. It’s not a common experience.”
Throughout the criminal proceedings, the details of which were suppressed from publication until last week, observers in court noted the close bond between the Cardinal and the veteran barrister, who appeared shocked by the guilty verdict.
After the jury was dismissed, Mr Richter and Pell briefly held hands as the Cardinal’s supporters and legal team gathered around the dock to console him. Mr Richter said he did not recall the incident.
Mr Richter has been representing Cardinal Pell since he was charged in 2017, including during a criminal trial that ended in a hung jury in September 2018 and the retrial that led to a conviction in December 2018. A second pending criminal proceeding on child sex-related charges was abandoned in late February.
Mr Richter came under intense pressure during the Cardinal’s pre-sentence plea hearing after referring to the abuse of one of the choir boys as “vanilla sexual penetration”. He later apologised, describing his comment as a “terrible choice of phrase”.
It was announced last week that Sydney-based barrister Bret Walker SC would take the lead in the appeal case but that the Cardinal’s high-powered legal team would otherwise remain unchanged.
Legal sources say it is common practice for specialised counsel to be recruited when making an appeal. Cardinal Pell’s team also includes Richter’s junior barrister Ruth Shann and solicitor Paul Galbally.
On Tuesday, Mr Richter said while he tended not to participate in appeals for cases that he had lost, in this case, he was also too angry.
The appeal against Pell's conviction will be made on three points, including that the jury erred in relying on the evidence of only one victim.
"The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone," the appeal document says.
The other grounds allege there was a "fundamental irregularity" in the trial process that prevented Cardinal Pell from entering a not guilty plea in front of the jury, and that the judge erred in not allowing the defence to show the jury a "moving visual representation" that supported the Cardinal’s claim of innocence.
Cardinal Pell is in custody awaiting sentencing.
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