Australian media agree to joint trial for Pell sex abuse case reporting

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian media outlets have dropped their opposition to a joint trial on charges they breached a gag order on reporting ex-Vatican treasurer George Pell’s conviction in 2018 on child sex abuse, according to a submission discussed in court on Wednesday.

Pell’s conviction was overturned by Australia’s High Court in April, but the case against the media organisations and reporters remains active.

There are 30 defendants, comprising 19 journalists and 11 news outlets, in the matter before the Supreme Court of Victoria. The media had sought separate trials on the range of issues raised, but acknowledged it would be too costly for the court to run.

The state prosecutor is seeking fines and jail terms for breaches of the suppression order on the Pell verdict and aiding and abetting contempt of court by overseas media.

Lawyers in the case, first launched in April 2019, are still working out issues around how to proceed with the trial, tentatively scheduled to begin in November.

At a procedural hearing held remotely on Wednesday, most of the debate was around what information, such as emails between reporters and their editors, the state prosecutor would be allowed to seek from media outlets.

Pell was found guilty by a jury in December 2018 of sexually assaulting two choirboys, but reporting on the trial and conviction in Australia was prohibited by the County Court of Victoria so as not to prejudice another trial Pell was due to face on separate child sex abuse charges.

After the verdict, some Australian media said that an unnamed high-profile person had been convicted of a serious crime that could not be reported, while some overseas media named Pell and the charges.

The suppression order on reporting Pell’s conviction was only lifted in February 2019 when the second case was dropped.

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