ABC News Australia

Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson seeks to have charge of hiding child sex abuse thrown out

18 May 2017

“Lawyers for Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson, accused of concealing child sex abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, have fronted court again for their third attempt to stop the case against him from going ahead.

Wilson, who has retained his position amid the criminal proceedings, is accused of failing to pass onto police information he had between 2004 and 2006 that might have helped convict Father Jim Fletcher.

It is alleged a boy told the senior clergyman, he had been indecently assaulted by Father Fletcher several years earlier.

Prosecutors claim Wilson came to believe the allegation decades later, after learning of other cases.

Father Fletcher died in prison in 2006.

Wilson’s barrister, Bret Walker SC, told the Court of Appeal in Sydney today that the charge was invalid.

It is Wilson’s third attempt to permanently stay the proceedings.

Two separate applications were previously rejected by a magistrate and a Supreme Court judge.

Timing of assault at centre of lawyers’ arguments

In his written submissions to the hearing, Mr Walker argued that the charge of concealment, required the crime that was allegedly concealed, to be a “serious indictable offence”, or at least five years imprisonment.

He said in the 1970s when the actual indecent assault occurred, the crime carried a maximum penalty of five years “penal servitude”, or hard labour, not imprisonment.

Mr Walker told the court according to the definition at the time, the indecent assault Wilson was accused of concealing did not require imprisonment and therefore “does not fall within the definition of a seriously indictable offence”.

Mr Walker said Justice Monika Schmidt, in her October 2016 decision, was wrong to conclude that it was a “serious indictable offence”.

Justice Schmidt did not rely on the definition of indecent assault at the time Father Fletcher’s crime was committed.

Instead, she had relied on the definition of indecent assault, relevant between 2004 to 2006, when Wilson was accused of concealing the crime.

That definition, also relevant today, requires that someone charged with indecent assault face a maximum five years jail, thereby — by today’s standards — making it an serious indictable offence.

Director of Public Prosecutions Lloyd Babb SC said Justice Schmidt had “correctly determined that the charge is valid”.

The three appeal court judges hearing the case, including Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, reserved their decision.”