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Murder and Manslaughter (NT)

Murder is the intentional unlawful killing of another person. It is the most serious crime that Northern Territory courts deal with and attracts a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Manslaughter occurs when a person dies as the result of an unlawful assault, but where the offender did not intend to kill the victim. In the Northern Territory, a person being tried for murder can instead be found guilty of manslaughter if an intention to kill cannot be proven or if the accused can demonstrate that he or she was acting in response to provocation.

What is murder?

Under Section 156 of the Criminal Code Act, a person is guilty of murder if they:

  • Engage in conduct; and
  • That conduct causes the death of another person; and
  • The person intends to cause death or serious harm to a person.

What is manslaughter?

Under Section 160 of the Criminal Code Act, a person is guilty of manslaughter if they:

  • Engage in conduct; and
  • That conduct causes the death of another person; and
  • The accused is reckless or negligent as to causing the death of that or another person.

Defences

The most commonly argued complete defence to murder is the defence of self-defence. Provocation may be used as a partial defence to murder in the NT. In some circumstances, other defences are also arguable in defence of a murder charge.

Self-defence

The defence of self-defence can be a full defence to murder (leading to an acquittal) or a partial defence (leading to a conviction for manslaughter). A person is not guilty of an offence if they killed another person in self-defence where they reasonably believed that their actions were necessary to defend themselves or another person. For this defence to succeed, the accused’s actions must have been proportionate to the threat faced. A person will be found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder if they used excessive self-defence and killed a person, where the defensive conduct was not proportionate to the threat faced.

Automatism

A person can only be found guilty of murder or manslaughter if they acted voluntarily. If a person acted in a state of automatism, such as sleepwalking, they will be found not guilty. However, the defence of automatism does not extend to self-induced intoxication.

Mental impairment

If a person is mentally impaired to the point of not knowing the nature and quality of their actions, they may be found not guilty of murder or manslaughter by reason of mental impairment. A person who is mentally impaired may also be found unfit to plead to a criminal offence.

Partial defence of provocation

A charge of murder in the Northern Territory can be reduced to the lesser charge of manslaughter if the accused can prove that they acted in response to provocation. For this partial defence to succeed the accused must show that their self-control was temporarily lost after provocation by the deceased. The conduct of the deceased must have been sufficient for an ordinary person to have lost their self-control to the point of forming an intention to kill or seriously harm the deceased.

The defence of provocation can apply whether or not the provocative conduct occurred immediately before the conduct causing death or at an earlier time. However, a non-violent sexual advance does not amount to provocation.

The accused bears the burden of proving that he or she acted in response to provocation.

Penalties

The NT has a mandatory sentencing regime, which imposes mandatory minimum penalties for certain offences.

Murder

In the NT, murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years. This means that a court does not have a discretion when sentencing a person for murder. It must impose a life sentence with a non-parole period of not less than 20 years. In some cases, defendants found guilty of murder receive non-parole periods of longer than 20 years.

A person found guilty of attempted murder in the NT is liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life. A person found guilty of conspiracy to murder is liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years. However, no mandatory sentence applies to charges of attempted murder or conspiracy to murder.

Manslaughter

In the NT, manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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