It was the court hearing that stopped Australia.
Cardinal George Pell’s sentencing after being convicted of child sex abuse was broadcast live across all networks on Wednesday.
Workers huddled around computer screens, shoppers stared at strangers’ iPads and people switched on their TVs to watch as Chief Judge Peter Kidd delivered his powerful remarks.
“In my view, the broadcast of my sentencing remarks is simply a clear demonstration of transparent and open justice,” Judge Kidd told the court, “and an accessible communication of the work of the court to the community of a case of interest.”
Australia’s top lawyers applauded Kidd’s decision to allow cameras into the County Court of Victoria, saying it helped demystify the justice system.
They want to see more of it – and they’re likely to, if Judge Kidd gets his way.
Since joining the County Court of Victoria 2015, the highly-respected jurist has pushed for greater transparency.
He believes the courts need to play a bigger role in teaching Australians about trials and sentencing.
That’s why last year, in an extraordinary move, he granted A Current Affair journalist Tineka Everaard exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the Melbourne court.
The flagship Nine program filmed four court cases, and also interviewed Judge Kidd, who said court systems should be celebrated, not denigrated.
“There is a misconception in the community that courts can sometimes be out of touch and sentencing is too lenient,” he said.
“We impose 1600 sentences a year, only a fraction of those receive any publicity. It doesn’t mean that the entire system is broke.”
He later told the Law Institute Journal about the September 2018 episode: “It was a great success. Everyone enjoyed it and the response to it has been very largely positive.”
Just months later, Judge Kidd made another bold choice – pushing for the Pell sentencing to be broadcast.
Counsel for the former Vatican treasurer fought the decision, saying it would only further punish the disgraced cardinal.
But Judge Kidd refused to relent.
“As the publicity will already be at saturation levels, I fail to see how the fact of the broadcast of my remarks will materially change the levels of coverage,” he said in his sentencing remarks.
“The broadcast does not constitute additional extra-curial punishment.”
Instead, he said it was “a clear demonstration of transparent and open justice” in a decision fully supported by the Law Council of Australia.
Its president, Arthur Moses SC, said there was “immense value” in broadcasting the Pell case, which was of “major public interest”.
“It demystifies the court process for the general public and also shows the work of our hardworking judges in action,” he told nine.com.au in a statement.
“Reading the text of a judgement does not show the complete picture. A broadcast allows the public to see the angst on a judge’s face, the tone of their voice and the carefully constructed considerations that go into delivering a judgement.
“It also educates the public about how sentences are formulated and applied. That justice is seen to be done is at the cornerstone of open justice.”
Mr Moses also called on more courts to broadcast high-profile hearings.
“The Law Council is calling on courts to continue to increase the use of broadcasting sentences of high-profile cases – which promotes open justice and a greater understanding of how judgments are reached,” he said.
“The more informed the community is regarding the workings of one of our courts, the better served we all are.”
It’s a view shared by Stuart Webb, president of the Law Institute of Victoria.
He said he has no doubt we will see more televised court cases in the future, sparked by the global public interest in the Pell case.
“I think people have been surprised and impressed by the fact that they could see how it works (in the Pell case),” he said.
“Transparency in criminal justice is vital. … Broadcasting will give the global community the opportunity to see justice being delivered …
“I think, particularly in the sentencing aspect, so people can see what is being done, the reasons for the outcome and the judge explaining in plain English why they have reached a sentence which is very sensitive.”
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019