The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35: Murder Appeal

Wednesday 31 August 2016 @ 11.14 a.m. | Crime

The High Court has handed down its judgment today (31 August 2016) in the high profile appeal case of The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35. The Court unanimously allowed the appeal from the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Queensland by ruling that the Court of Appeal had erred in concluding that the jury’s verdict of guilty for murder was unreasonable. The High Court ruled that the hypothesis the Court of Appeal relied on, namely that there had been a confrontation between the respondent and the victim prior to the victim’s death, was inconsistent with the evidence in court and therefore was not available on the evidence.

Background

The respondent, Gerard Baden-Clay, was found guilty of the murder of his wife after a high profile trial on 15 July 2014. The defendant, Baden-Clay, gave evidence that on the night of the 19 April 2012, he was at home with his wife and daughter before retiring to bed at 10pm while his wife continued to watch television. He woke the next morning to find her missing and had allegedly searched the neighbourhood for her before phoning the police and reporting his wife missing. The police found Baden-Clay with scratch marks on his face which he insisted was the result of a shaving mishap. However, three expert witnesses had given evidence at trial that the scratches were more likely caused by fingernails. On 30 April 2012, his wife was found under a bridge at Kholo Creek.

Baden-Clay had testified to the police that he was involved in a sexual affair with another woman, Ms Toni McHugh. His wife had sought professional counselling help and confronted Baden-Clay on 16 April 2012 about his affair. Further evidence revealed that Baden-Clay had scratch marks on other parts of his body and his wife’s blood was found in the boot of their car. This evidence resulted in Baden-Clay’s murder conviction.

Court of Appeal in Queensland

Baden-Clay appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal arguing that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable based on the evidence. The Court of Appeal agreed with Baden-Clay, ruling that it was not open to the jury to be reasonably satisfied that Baden-Clay had intended to kill his wife or to cause her grievous bodily harm.  In particular, the Court accepted the respondent's submission, made for the first time on appeal, that the prosecution had not excluded the hypothesis that there was a physical confrontation between the appellant and his wife in which he delivered a blow which killed her.

High Court Appeal

The High Court unanimously held that the Court of Appeal was wrong. The High Court found that at trial, Baden-Clay had denied that there was any altercation with his wife, particularly any involving a physical confrontation that would’ve resulted in her death and his disposing of her body. The Court found that his evidence, being the only eye witness evidence on what had taken place, was inconsistent with any hypotheses of the nature relied on by the Court of Appeal. Consequently, the High Court ruled that the hypothesis was not available on the evidence. The High Court, as a result, restored Baden-Clay’s verdict to guilty of murder. 

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Sources:

The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35 and judgment summary

Til Death Do Us Part: The story of Allison Baden-Clay

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