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In a short appeal for people to be prepared to stand up against “the certitude of latter-day Robespierres” and the Red Terror of “unfashionability” in defending someone as demonised as Cardinal George Pell Noel Pearson has demonstrated — again — his value to the greater political discourse.

Pell has been pilloried and accused of dreadful things, he has denied them all and is being subjected to examination from a Royal Commission and the Victorian Police, yet Pearson’s point is not about Pell, the Catholic Church or even guilt or innocence.

As a campaigner for justice, a lawyer and an esteemed “voice” in Australian debate Pearson has chosen to enter an argument which superficially doesn’t concern him — he’s not even a Catholic — and one which he admits hasn’t gripped him to the point of breaking into public comment.

The reason he’s chosen to enter the debate is because he sees in the publication of unproven allegations and judgment being passed in the court of opinion while investigations and consideration of charges are still under way as an undermining of the rights of all Australians, including the victims of child sexual abuse.

Pearson’s argument on legal principles about the basic right of a fair trial and the danger of prejudice tainting the entire process is not about religion or Pell, it is about everyone else who may be subjected to attack without any real recourse under law.

Pearson argues, as does the Law Council of Victoria, that the publication of a book with unproved and denied allegations is clearly prejudicial and only being done because Pell “is the least likely to pursue any recourse under the law”.

As a result of the consistent demonising of Pell as Australia’s most senior Catholic and number four at the Vatican it has become “unfashionable” as Pearson says or worse to either defend the Cardinal or even seek fair treatment.

The silence of those unprepared to defend Pell “troubles” Pearson not because of the fate of Pell personally but because the “state of our public life” is at risk when we do not uphold basic principles of justice and fair treatment for everyone.

“Ours is a system of law based on prosecution, not persecution,”

says Pearson and he’s right. But the court of modern public opinion can condemn someone and offer no appeal if the Robespierres feel none of the old constraints of the real courts.