George Pell contempt trial: Judge reserves ruling

A judge has reserved his decision on whether Australian media companies and journalists have a case to answer over the way Cardinal George Pell’s conviction was reported.

Prosecutors have already withdrawn 13 of 100 contempt charges over the reporting of Pell trial’s in 2018 and lawyers have applied to have the remaining cases thrown out.

Fifteen journalists face potential jail terms after Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC launched an extraordinary prosecution over the way in which information was published and broadcast about the conviction of a high-profile Australian. That person was later revealed as George Pell.

A court non-publication order prevented any reporting on his trial in Australia, because it could have impacted the jury in the second trial against Pell — which was later dropped.

Prosecutors allege the articles and broadcasts by Australian media encouraged people to conduct online searches to find the person’s identity, at a time when overseas media were naming Pell.

Will Houghton QC, representing News Corp Australia outlets and journalists, argued on Tuesday the crown failed to show the articles could have led any would-be juror to search for and find any of 35 overseas articles that revealed Pell’s identity.

However, Lisa De Ferrari SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, rejected submissions by Mr Houghton and Matt Collins QC, for Fairfax/Nine and Mamma Mia, that their clients had no case to answer.

Ms De Ferrari argued interference with the administration of justice was not determined by what impact the articles and broadcasts had on those who read or heard them. Rather, in publishing the material, the media breached the terms of the court order.

Justice John Dixon said his ruling on the no case submissions would likely take “a few days” and reserved his decision.

“I have found the submissions that have been put by all parties very helpful and there’s quite a bit of material that I want to work back through and so on before reaching a final conclusion,” he said.

Eighteen individual journalists and 12 news outlets were charged with contempt offences, including six News Corporation titles, five from Fairfax/Nine and Mamma Mia.

Last week, prosecutors dropped cases against three News Corp digital editors and other defendants had sub judice and breaching suppression order charges withdrawn.

Convictions on contempt charges draw a penalty of jail, fines or both.

Cardinal Pell was cleared of abusing two choirboys by the High Court and immediately freed from jail in April after serving 13 months.

The trial continues at a date to be fixed.

News Corp Australia is the publisher of NCA NewsWire.

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