Cardinal George Pell and his defence team will soon be given the prosecution’s brief of evidence in the historical sexual abuse case against him.
The highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with sexual abuse has appeared in court for the first time, with his barrister making it clear Pell will plead not guilty to all charges.
Yesterday’s filing hearing, the first step in the preliminary court process, was over in six and a half minutes.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds adjourned the case until October 6, when a date may be set for a committal hearing to determine if Pell stands trial.
The prosecution has until September 8 to hand over its brief of evidence to the defence, although prosecutor Andrew Tinney, SC, said that could occur as soon as next week.
“I can indicate that it is my expectation the brief will be delivered well before, possibly late next week,” Tinney told the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
Hand-up briefs contain all the evidence in the case, in the form of witness statements and copies of exhibits, as well as the accused’s record of interview.
Pell will not have to enter a formal plea on the historical sexual offence charges unless a magistrate decides there is enough evidence for him to stand trial in the County Court.
His barrister Robert Richter, QC, said the 76-year-old maintains his innocence.
“For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, might I indicate that Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all the charges and will maintain his presumed innocence that he has,” Richter told the court.
The appearance in court of the third-most senior Vatican official generated massive interest from Australian and international media organisations.
Australia’s most senior Catholic was shepherded by police officers through a crush of camera operators, journalists and photographers on his way to and from the court.
The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer to return to Australia to defend himself.
The prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy is basing himself in Sydney, where the archdiocese is assisting with his accommodation and support but not his legal bills.
A date for a committal hearing will be set on October 6 unless a further mention is required.
Pell’s defence team did not ask the magistrate to excuse the cardinal from appearing when the case returns to court.
The committal hearing may not be held for a number of months, possibly in early 2018. AAP