Section 303 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 creates the offence of manslaughter and, quite simply, provides that:
“A person who unlawfully kills another under such circumstances as not to constitute murder is guilty of manslaughter.”
Manslaughter is, in essence, the act of causing another person’s death without the intent to do so (because intentionally killing somebody is an offence called murder). There is, of course, a point at which accidentally causing the death of another is not a criminal offence so the offence of manslaughter normally involves deliberately doing an act which causes death (rather than causing the death through pure accident).
Manslaughter can, in some cases, be committed where a person would otherwise be guilty of murder but because of some provocation, or a legitimate need for self defence, the killing is reduced, as a matter of law, to manslaughter.
Under section 310, manslaughter is punishable by life imprisonment though this is not a mandatory sentence and there are a range of other penalties which can be applied to the offence. In most instances a conviction for manslaughter will result in imprisonment but in some limited circumstances a non-custodial sentence might be imposed, or a sentence of imprisonment might be wholly suspended.
What Actions Might Constitute Manslaughter?
It is common for a charge of manslaughter to be laid where a person deliberately assaults another, without an apparent intention to kill them or to cause them grievous bodily harm, and where that other person dies as a result of the assault.
A common example of the offence is the case of a parent who, in a fit of frustration with their child, throws that child, perhaps against a wall or onto a table, and the throw causes injuries which ultimately kill the child.
There are also less common examples of the offence, committed when a person deliberately neglects a child or other dependant person and they die as a result of, for example starvation or preventable disease.
What the Police Must Prove
In order to convict you of manslaughter it must be proved that you:
- did, or omitted to do, an act which caused the death of another person; and
- the death was caused unlawfully (that is, without a lawful excuse), and
- the circumstances of the death do not amount to murder.
Specifically, the police are not required to prove any intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm in order to establish a charge of manslaughter but they are required to prove what act caused a death and that this act was deliberate.
Possible Defences to Manslaughter
A person charged with manslaughter may validly defend the charge by arguing that:
- they carried out the offence in self-defence;
- they were acting under duress;
- they were too young and insufficiently mature to understand the nature of the act (where the accused is under 14);
- they were mentally impaired.
Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?
A charge of manslaughter will be heard and determined in the Supreme Court.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.