Cardinal George Pell will likely face two separate trials over historical sexual offence allegations, with his defence barrister Robert Richter telling a Melbourne court this was necessary because the nature of the two sets of charges were “completely different” and occurred two decades apart.
Judge Sue Pullen presided over the brief directions hearing on Wednesday morning and prosecutors did not object to the separate trials for the treasurer of the Vatican in Rome.
One trial will relate to charges from incidents alleged to have occurred at a Ballarat swimming pool, while the second trial will relate to charges alleged to have occurred at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Further details of the charges cannot be detailed for legal reasons.
While prosecutors initially said the two trials might take three months, Richter told the court this was “excessive”. He said Pell’s age, 76, combined with the age of one of the complainants should lead the court to expedite the case.
“Everyone needs to get on with their lives,” Richter said. Complainants will be permitted to give their evidence via video link.
Ultimately both prosecutors and defence lawyers agreed that the entire trial would take between eight and 10 weeks, with the cathedral matter expected to take the longest and run for at least five weeks. No dates for the trials have been set and a further directions hearing will be held in Melbourne’s county court on 16 May.
The trials follow a decision handed down by magistrate Belinda Wallington in Melbourne’s magistrates court on Tuesday that Pell would stand trial over half of the charges prosecutors made against him. The remaining charges were thrown out by Wallington, who said that some of the witnesses lacked credibility, and that some of the most serious charges could not have possibly occurred in the timeframe alleged in the timeframe described by one of the complainants. Wallington’s judgment followed a committal hearing that ran for roughly four weeks to decide whether there was enough evidence to order Pell to stand trial.
When Pell arrived at the county court on Wednesday, he was surrounded by police. The directions hearing lasted just over 10 minutes, with many people forced to stand in the packed courtroom.
Pell has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Under his bail conditions, he is unable to leave the country.