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Judge orders clarity in cases against media for Pell contempt trial

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are among the media companies facing trial for contempt over their reports.

Lawyers for the media companies and the Office of Public Prosecutions appeared before Supreme Court Justice John Dixon for a case management hearing on Tuesday, during which the opposing sides argued over the clarity of the prosecution cases.

Matt Collins, QC, for the media, said his clients only had one rolled-up brief of evidence when they wanted to know the specific witnesses and documents to be used against each of the 30 journalists or companies.

“Is it, for example, intended that a copy of The Age article will be tendered in the case against The Courier Mail and so on?” Dr Collins said.

“At the moment it’s just not good enough.”

But Lisa De Ferrari, SC, for the OPP, said the cases against each respondent were “100 per cent crystal clear”, and each of the journalists and editors knew what they were accused of.

“It is clear and it has been clear for ages,” Ms De Ferrari said.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest we are going to tender a Courier Mail article in the case against The Age and vice versa.”

Dr Collins replied, “It’s not clear to us and it’s not a ridiculous thing to ask for.”

Justice Dixon, who has previously expressed frustration at the slow going in getting the case to trial, ruled that prosecutors needed to file 30 separate documents, outlining the case against each respondent.

“I thought that was what I asked for 18 months ago,” the judge said.

Prosecutors allege that in December 2018 media companies breached a suppression order by publishing articles and broadcasts that reported a high-profile person had been found guilty of serious charges. Cardinal Pell was not named in any of the stories.

The suppression order was in place because at the time Cardinal Pell was to face a second trial, and Chief Judge Peter Kidd did not want reports of an earlier guilty verdict to influence a second jury.

The suppression order was lifted and media were able to report the guilty verdicts in February last year, when prosecutors abandoned the second trial.

Cardinal Pell, who has been living in Sydney since his acquittal and release from prison, is travelling to Rome this week for the first time since his court case. The former Vatican treasurer left Rome for Melbourne in 2017 to face the charges.

Justice Dixon set a further case management hearing for October 12.

The contempt trial is expected to run for three weeks.

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