George Pell has decided to appeal his case to the High Court, setting the scene for a final legal battle over historic child sex abuse allegations levelled at Australia's most senior Catholic cleric.
Sources have told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald that Pell made the decision after receiving unanimous advice from his legal team that the dissenting opinion of Victorian Supreme Court Justice Mark Weinberg provided reasonable grounds to have his convictions overturned.
Pell has 21 days from last Wednesday's Court of Appeal judgement to formally lodge an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court. It is likely that a short hearing to determine his application will be listed for this year.
If Pell is granted leave, it is likely to be a further four to six months before his appeal is heard.
It is understood that Pell's special leave application will be made by Bret Walker, SC, who argued the cardinal's case before the Court of Appeal and who has extensive experience in High Court cases.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Pell's appeal against his convictions for the oral rape of a choirboy and the sexual assault of another at St Patrick's Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
A majority decision handed down by Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell upheld the jury decision reached in December last year in the County Court, when Pell was found guilty of five child sex offences.
Justices Ferguson and Maxwell found that Pell's sole surviving victim, a boy of just 13 when he was assaulted by the senior cleric a room known as the sacristy of the cathedral shortly after Sunday mass, was a credible, truthful witness.
Pell's lawyers - solicitor Paul Galbally and barristers Bret Walker, SC, Ruth Shann and Robert Richter, QC - have spent the days since the failed appeal pouring over the dissenting judgement of Justice Weinberg, a former director of Commonwealth Public Prosecutions who is considered one of Australia's leading criminal law jurists.
Justice Weinberg questioned the victim's credibility and reliability, concluding there was a "significant body of cogent evidence casting serious doubt upon the complainant's account" and recommending that Pell be acquitted on all charges.
"Having had regard to the whole of the evidence led at trial and having deliberated long and hard over this matter, I find myself in the position of having a genuine doubt as to the applicant's guilt,'' Justice Weinberg wrote.
Although Pell's grounds for another appeal are yet to be finalised, legal experts familiar with the workings of the High Court believe they will centre on a broad provision which allows the court to intervene in any case "in the interests of the administration of justice".
Pell, 78, is currently being held in a high security cell within the Melbourne Assessment Prison, where he is under lockdown 23 hours a day. He is expected to be transferred to the Hopkins centre in Ararat, where he will be jailed alongside a generation of notorious priests collared for sex crimes against children.
He was sentenced to a minimum of three years and eight months in prison for his crimes against the two choirboys. If he is granted special leave to appeal to the High Court, it may be late next year before the court hands down a final judgement on his case.
- SMH/The Age