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John Sutton

The offence of manslaughter is somewhat complicated, particularly because of its close relationship to the offence of murder.

In NSW an act or a failure to act that results in the death of another person is considered to be a "homicide". Homicides are then divided into two categories; murder and manslaughter.

Murder is the more serious type of homicide where the offender is alleged to have intended to kill or seriously injure the victim, or where they have acted with reckless indifference to the victim’s life.

Any homicide that is not a murder may be a manslaughter. While manslaughter is considered to be the less serious of the two homicide offences it is still considered to be one of the most serious criminal offences.

A person can be charged with manslaughter if they did something that resulted in the death of another person, but where the offence falls short of murder because they didn’t intend to kill or seriously injure the victim, or where they have acted with reckless indifference to the victim’s life.

A person can also be charged with manslaughter if they failed to do something, resulting in the death of another person, and that they were grossly negligent in failing to act.

A very common example of manslaughter is committing an unlawful and dangerous act which results in the death of another person.

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is imprisonment for 25 years.


The offence of manslaughter is largely contained in common law principles. The offence of manslaughter is however addressed in sections 18 of the Crimes Act. The section states:

  1. (1)
    1. Murder shall be taken to have been committed where the act of the accused, or thing by him or her omitted to be done, causing the death charged, was done or omitted with reckless indifference to human life, or with intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm upon some person, or done in an attempt to commit, or during or immediately after the commission, by the accused, or some accomplice with him or her, of a crime punishable by imprisonment for life or for 25 years.
    2. Every other punishable homicide shall be taken to be manslaughter.
  2. (2)
    1. No act or omission which was not malicious, or for which the accused had lawful cause or excuse, shall be within this section.
    2. No punishment or forfeiture shall be incurred by any person who kills another by misfortune only.


Examples of manslaughter include:

  • Punching someone who falls and hits their head on concrete, causing them to die;
  • Not bothering to secure the scaffolding on a house resulting in the death of your apprentice; or
  • Shooting a bushwalker by accident on a hunting trip.


The common ways to defend this charge are:

  • To maintain your innocence if you did not commit the act;
  • To argue that you did not do an act or did not fail to act;
  • To argue that you did not cause the death of the person;
  • To argue that you were not grossly negligent; or
  • To raise self defence, necessity or duress as the reason for your conduct.


The offence is a strictly indictable offence and must be finalised in the District or Supreme Court.

where to next?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

Why Choose Armstrong Legal?

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