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The trial of Gerard Baden-Clay for the murder of his wife Allison Baden-Clay was one of the most high-profile murder investigations and trials in the history of Queensland.

The case itself gives rise to a number of questions about criminal justice in Queensland:

what protections exist to ensure
a person accused of a crime receives a
fair trial?
how does the law address the expectations of victims and the community in achieving a just outcome?

Case Summary

The Disappearance

In April 2012, Allison Baden-Clay disappeared from her home in Brisbane. Ten days following the disappearance, a woman's body was found on the bank of a creek in Brisbane's west, and soon after was formally identified as Allison Baden-Clay.

Charges Laid

Gerard Baden-Clay, Allison Baden-Clay's husband, was arrested by police and charged with murder in June 2012. Baden-Clay was refused bail and held on remand.

Trial and Appeal

The trial of Baden-Clay commenced in June 2014 and he was found guilty of the murder of Allison Baden-Clay in July 2014. Baden-Clay appealed the murder conviction and was successful in having it downgraded to manslaughter in December 2015.

Appeal to the High Court

In January 2016, the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) appealed the decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal (QCA), hoping to have Baden-Clay's murder conviction reinstated.

The High Court of Australia (HCA) decided in August 2016 that Baden-Clay's murder conviction should be reinstated.

Baden-Clay was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, with a 15 year non-parole period.

See also: ABC News' detailed interactive timeline, which goes up to the application to appeal to the HCA.

Checks on the power of the courts are important in ensuring that justice is done.

The rule of law requires that the decision by a court can be appealed to ensure that it is correct according to the law. In Australia, the concept of the separation of powers ensures that there are checks on the powers of all the arms of government. The main check on the decisions of the courts is the right to appeal a decision to a higher court.

When a case goes to a higher court, especially the High Court, it can also draw the attention of the Parliament. If the case raises an issue of public importance that the Parliament believes requires law reform, they can pass a law which overrides precedents set by the courts.

To ensure fairness and equality before the law, both parties in a criminal proceeding may appeal a decision of the court.

In the Baden-Clay case:

  • Baden-Clay appealed the decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland (QSC) in the QCA.
  • The prosecution, then appealed the decision of the QCA in the HCA.

A Trial for Murder

Baden-Clay was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Allison Baden-Clay, by a jury in 2014. The legal citation for the trial is: R v Baden-Clay [2014] QSC 154 and 155 which are the summing-up of the evidence by Justice Byrne for the jury, and the transcript of sentencing remarks made by Byrne J after the jury had returned a verdict of guilty.

See the Supreme Court Library of Queensland's website for the original documents:

The Defence Appeals Against the Murder Conviction

In R v Baden-Clay [2015] QCA 265 (8 December 2015) Baden-Clay appealed the decision of QSC on the following grounds:

  1. that the judge misdirected the jury about the abrasions on his face;
  2. that the jury were inappropriately directed on the need to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt about the link between the transportation of Allison Baden-Clay's body and the blood found in the car and whether that meant there had been a miscarriage of justice;
  3. that the verdict of murder was unreasonable or unsupportable having regard to the evidence – whether intent was sufficiently proven by post offence conduct (whether how Baden-Clay behaved after Allison’s death showed he intended to kill her and was; therefore, guilty of her murder).

Baden-Clay was only successful with the third point regarding the verdict of murder being unreasonable was successful.

The QCA came to the conclusion that Baden-Clay was not guilty of murder, but of manslaughter, stating at paragraph 48 of the judgment:

…the jury could not properly have been satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the element of intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm has been proved.

Read more about the meaning of beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Prosecution Appeals to the High Court of Australia

Immediately after the Queensland Court of Appeal downgraded Baden-Clay’s conviction from murder to manslaughter, the Queensland Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) sought, and was granted, special leave to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal in the High Court of Australia (HCA). The High Court heard the appeal in July 2016.

The DPP argued for the decision of the QCA to be reversed and the murder conviction reinstated.

The Appeal to the High Court

The High Court of Australia (HCA) sat in July 2016 and delivered its judgement at the end of August. The HCA’s decision was unanimous in finding that Gerard Baden-Clay’s murder conviction should be reinstated. .

The HCA found the following:

A theory about accidental killing was proposed by the QCA. However, the HCA found that the QCA was not allowed to propose such a theory because it was not supported by the evidence given by Baden-Clay at trial. The HCA found that the jury could not have found that he accidentally killed his wife because that possible explanation was never put to them during the trial.

this is not a case where the accused remained silent... the accused gave evidence...The respondent's evidence was that he had nothing to do with the circumstances in which his wife was killed...he simply was not present when her death occurred; and he could not have been the unintentional cause of her death.

- The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35 at 52.

The HCA found that the jury was open to convict Baden-Clay of murder. The HCA made the following remarks about trial by jury, appeal courts and the evidence in the Baden-Clay case:

a court of criminal appeal is not to substitute trial by an appeal court for trial by jury.

it was open to the jury rationally to conclude that the respondent killed his wife and did so with intent, at least, to cause her grievous bodily harm. Upon the whole of the evidence led at trial, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent was guilty of murder.

- The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35 at 66 and 79.

The right to appeal the decision of a court is important both to the accused, the community and the victims of crimes. In this case the DPP and the Baden-Clay appealed decisions they believed to be incorrect.

The ability to appeal the decision of a court is the main check on the power of courts, and ensures that decisions made are done so according to the rule of law. The Baden-Clay case is an example of the High Court exercising its role as the final court of appeal in all criminal matters in Australia.