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What You Need To Know About George Pell's Appeal

Former Catholic Cardinal George Pell will be looking to overturn his child sex abuse convictions today in Victoria's highest court.

Pell was sentenced to six years in jail in December of 2018 for one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child.

Three Court of Appeal judges, Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Justice Chris Maxwell, and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mark Weinberg, will rule on Pell's appeal following a two-day hearing starting Wednesday.

Cardinal George Pell arrives at County Court in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, February 27, 2019. Source: AAP Photos.
What Is George Pell's Grounds For Appeal?

There are three reasons that Pell's legal team are citing as grounds for appeal.

Firstly, Pell's lawyers argue the convictions should be overturned on the basis that the sexual abuse evidence came from a single choirboy -- as Pell's other victim never filed a complaint with the police.

READ MORE: Cardinal George Pell Sentenced To Six Years Jail

READ MORE: As A Survivor Of Sex Abuse By Clergy, Here's What Pell's Sentence Means To Me

His team will argue that the jury could not have made decided on a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt based on the case of a single complainant.

A court artist sketch by Paul Tyquin of Cardinal George Pell at the County Court in Melbourne, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Source: AAP Photos.

Pell's lawyers will also argue the court should have been shown a 19-minute animation created by his legal defence, which supposedly shows it was 'impossible' Pell was alone in the priest's sacristy when he abused the boys.

Another ground for the appeal is that he was not asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty in the presence of all the potential jurors, which is a legal requirement for criminal trials.

If Pell succeeds in arguing that the verdicts of the jury, based on the evidence of a single complainant, were 'unreasonable', then his convictions may be overturned and he could walk free.

Pope Benedict XVI right, is greeted by Cardinal George Pell left, upon his arrival at Richmond Air Base on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, 2008. Source: AAP Photos.

The latter two reasons are considered technicalities and if they're accepted by the Court of Appeals, a retrial is likely.

Pell himself will be attending these hearings but this may be coordinated by video link.

While Pell's criminal trials were under strict media suppression orders for several months, the appeals hearing will be broadcast live on the Supreme Court website.

What Was Pell Found Guilty Of?

The crimes were committed in 1996 against two 13-year-old choirboys and involved orally raping the boys as well as fondling their genitals and masturbating himself in front of them.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd said at the time of sentencing that Pell's offending had a "significant and long-lasting impact" on the complainant's life and well-being.

"In my view, the first episode in the priest's sacristy involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims. The acts were sexually graphic," Kidd said.

His sentence came with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

What Do Pell's Victims Say?

At the time of Pell's conviction, the unnamed victim who gave evidence in the trial said that it was hard to allow himself "to feel the gravity of this moment."

"I have played my part as best I can. I took the difficult step of reporting to police about a high-profile person, and I stood up to give my evidence," he said in a statement.

The father of Pell's second victim, who died in 2014 and never gave an account of his experience, said that he was "appreciative and thankful" of the first victim for coming forward and paid tribute to him outside Melbourne County Court.

What Happens Now?

There are effectively three possible outcomes here.

The first is that the jury verdicts are upheld, and Pell remains guilty.

The second is that Pell is successful and he is acquitted of the crimes by the Court of Appeal.

The third is that he is successful in his appeal, his conviction is overturned and the Court of Appeal directs a new trial back in the County Court before a new judge and jury. Pell is not appealing his sentence.

His appeal hearing is scheduled to go until Thursday, and although it is possible the judges will announce a decision on Thursday, it is highly unlikely. We’ll probably not know the verdict for several weeks -- or even months.