NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman has taken the first step in a possible appeal against the overturning of former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson’s conviction for concealing child sex allegations.
Mr Speakman asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider the prospects of an appeal within hours of the archbishop’s successful bid on Thursday to overturn his conviction for failing to report child sex allegations about a Hunter priest to police in 2004.
In a statement after the decision Mr Speakman confirmed the request but declined to comment.
“Any further statement from me about the specific case would be inappropriate,” he said.
Archbishop Wilson, 68, had his conviction quashed by Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis, who found the Crown failed to prove essential elements of its case beyond reasonable doubt. Judge Ellis also questioned the accuracy of a key witness’ evidence.
The archbishop was the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be charged with a conceal offence in March, 2015, and the most senior in the world to be convicted of a conceal offence when Newcastle magistrate Robert Stone found him guilty in May.
Judge Ellis started his decision by acknowledging that the sexual abuse of children was a blight on the community, and institutional sexual abuse of children was “arguably… even worse”.
But the judge said it was important that he dealt with the archbishop’s case “completely impartially, by not allowing anger toward the Catholic Church or sympathy for Philip Wilson because the matter dates back to 1976 when he was a young, inexperienced assistant priest, to interfere with my role”.
Mr Speakman said the NSW Government had strengthened laws making it a crime for failing to report child abuse, after five years of evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“We also listened to community concerns and strengthened the penalty for section 316A and section 316 of the Crimes Act (failing to report a serious indictable offence) to – in the most serious cases – a maximum five years imprisonment, or seven years where the offender failed to report the abuse for a personal benefit,” Mr Speakman said.
“There is no greater obligation of individuals, the community and government than to protect our children from abuse.”
Adelaide Archdiocese administrator delegate Father Philip Marshall, who stepped in after Archbishop Wilson resigned as head of the archdiocese, said survivors of child sexual abuse and their families were in the church’s thoughts and prayers.
The archdiocese welcomed the “conclusion of a process that has been long and painful for all concerned”, Father Marshall said before Mr Speakman’s office confirmed his request to the Director of Public Prosecutions.