Among the most serious crimes in all Australian jurisdictions are murder and manslaughter. These offenses are solely punishable by indictment, and the Supreme Court is the lone forum for resolution. Nonetheless, the sentencing guidelines for these offenses vary throughout states and territories. The laws pertaining to manslaughter and murder in each jurisdiction are described on this page.
Murder and Manslaughter
The Crimes Act 1900 of New South Wales defines murder in section 18, where it is declared that any homicide that is subject to punishment but falls short of murder is manslaughter.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is twenty-five years in jail, and the maximum sentence for murder is life in prison.
Although there isn’t a set minimum sentence for murder in New South Wales, the typical non-parole duration is 20 years.
Provocation is a partial defense available in New South Wales when facing a murder prosecution. A person will be found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter if it is shown that they committed murder under extraordinary duress.
Murder and manslaughter in Victoria
Under Victoria’s common law, manslaughter and murder are crimes. The Crimes Act 1958 contains additional charges related to homicide.
For murder, the maximum sentence is life in prison. A maximum of 25 years in jail is the punishment for manslaughter.
There is no minimum required length of imprisonment for murder or manslaughter offenses, but under section 5 of the Victorian Sentencing Act 1991, a court must sentence a defendant to a term of imprisonment unless certain conditions apply.
In 2005, Victoria eliminated the provocation defense in part for murder cases.
Murder and manslaughter in Queensland
The crime of murder is covered in Queensland by section 302 of the Criminal Code of 1899. Section 303 defines manslaughter as the illegal killing of a person under circumstances other than murder.
Anyone convicted of murder in Queensland faces a mandatory life term in prison. One may designate a non-parole period; twenty years is the typical non-parole duration.
If it can be shown that the accused was acting in response to provocation, a conviction for murder can be reduced to manslaughter.
Sections 12 and 15 of the Crimes Act 2002 of the ACT delineate the offenses of murder and manslaughter, respectively.
The maximum punishment for murder in the ACT is life in prison. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years in prison.
An accused murderer in the ACT may use a partial defense of provocation to have their murder conviction reduced to manslaughter.
Sections 279 and 280 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 define the offenses of murder and manslaughter, respectively, in Western Australia. Both murder and manslaughter are subject to mandatory sentencing under the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913. The minimum terms of imprisonment required for these offenses vary based on the specific circumstances surrounding the crime and the age of the offender.
Provocation is a partial defense for murder accusations in Western Australia.
Section 156 of the Criminal Code 1983 defines murder in the Northern Territory, while section 160 defines manslaughter.
In the NT, a mandatory life sentence for murder is applied. When imposing a sentence for murder, the court must establish a non-parole period. The highest sentence for manslaughter is life in jail.
If the NT successfully raises a partial defense of provocation against murder allegations, the charge is dropped to manslaughter.
The Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, section 11, defines the crime of murder in South Australia. As per Section 13, manslaughter is a criminal offense.
In South Australia, a mandatory life sentence for murder is applied. The maximum punishment for manslaughter is life in jail.
In 2020, South Australia eliminated the provocation defense in part for murder charges.
While some jurisdictions only allow for the partial defense of provocation, all states and territories offer alternative legal defenses against murder and manslaughter.
Below is a summary of the most prevalent ones.
When an accused individual defends oneself or another person, they are entitled to the defense of self-defense. If the accused reasonably felt that their acts were required under the circumstances and utilized a level of force commensurate with the threat, they will be successful in establishing this defense.
When an accused person had a mental disability at the time of the alleged offense, meaning they were unaware of what they were doing or that it was unlawful, they may invoke the defence of mental impairment. A mental impairment can be caused by brain damage, mental disease, or an intellectual handicap.
In all cases, the defense of duress can be used in connection with manslaughter; in some cases, it can be used in connection with murder. It is applicable in cases where the accused committed the conduct in response to threats of death or extremely serious bodily harm. If the threat was so grave that a regular person in the accused’s circumstances would have given in to it, the defence will be successful.