Written by Andrew Tiedt
Published under Major Cases
February 17, 2014
The trial of Simon Gittany for the murder of his partner Lisa Harnum captured the attention of the media in Sydney in a way few other matters have recently.
This was due, in no small part, to the dramatic nature of Miss Harnum’s death. She died after being thrown from the balcony of their 15 storey apartment in the Sydney CBD.
The Crown case rested upon a number of pieces of evidence. The most compelling of those was the fact that Mr Gittany had clearly had a fight with Miss Harnum shortly before her death. Video footage showed him dragging her back into their apartment a little over a minute before she fell. When interviewed, Mr Gittany claimed that Miss Harnum had either jumped intentionally or accidentally fallen from the balcony but there was no persuasive evidence that she was depressed or in some way suicidal.
The Crown case was further bolstered by several independent witnesses who claimed to have seen someone whose description matched that of Mr Gittany throwing Miss Harnum over the balcony.
The trial proceeded as a “Judge alone” trial, that application by the defence having been granted by the Court after Mr Gittany claimed he would unable to afford what would have been a much longer jury trial.
In a very thorough and reasoned decision, Her Honour Justice McCallum found Mr Gittany guilty of murder, and a few days ago sentenced him to a non-parole period of 18 years.
The media appeared fascinated with the psyche of Mr Gittany, and also that of his new girlfriend, who, many believe, bears a striking resemblance to Ms Harnum.
The most interesting part of the matter from a legal perspective is the very detailed judgment Her Honour Justice McCallum gave for finding Mr Gittany guilty of murder.
When someone is tried for an offence in the District or Supreme Court, a jury almost always decides their guilt or innocence. No reasons are given and it is almost impossible to know on what basis juries have made their decision.
It is illegal to interview juries or publish accounts of their reasoning, and a jury’s decision is therefore shrouded in mystery.
Justice McCallum’s decision was incredibly detailed and thorough. It methodically and carefully reviewed the evidence and explained conclusions about the reliability of various witnesses and various pieces of evidence.
The basis upon which Mr Gittany was found guilty was made crystal clear and, in the inevitable appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeal will be able to see precisely why the decision was made and assess the correctness of it.
This decision was an excellent demonstration of the potential benefits of "Judge Alone" trials. Whether it increases the likelihood of persons asking for their matters to be dealt with in this way in the future remains to be seen.
It will now be up to the Court of Criminal Appeal to consider Her Honour’s reasons and decide whether the decision to convict Mr Gittany was open to Her Honour.
In the meantime, Mr Gittany has been taken in to custody and will remain there, subject to the appeal, until 2032.