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Murder and Manslaughter

Murder, Attempted Murder, and Manslaughter are considered the most serious crimes against a person, and in Queensland offenders can be sentenced to life imprisonment.  The main difference between Murder and Manslaughter is intent, which plays a big part in determining which charges will be laid, and the sentence likely to be imposed.  Chapter 28 of the Criminal Code 1899 outlines the different homicide offences in Queensland, and the types of charges that can be laid.

What it means at law “to cause someone’s death”.

They type of charges that results from a person’s death will be determined by the circumstances of what occurred. You will have deemed to have killed another person if you cause their death either directly, or indirectly, by whatever means.  You can also be deemed to have killed another person if threats, or intimidation, causes another person to do an act which results in their death. This is an important aspect of the seriousness of bullying which may lead to a person committing suicide.  If you injure someone, and those injuries cause the person to die, then it is immaterial if with proper medical treatment that person may have lived. You are also responsible for the person’s death if the medical treatment provided because of the injuries sustained caused the person to die.


Murder is defined in section 302 of the Criminal Code 1899, as the wilful killing of a person either intentionally, or with reckless indifference.  The reckless indifference does not refer to dangerous driving causing death, and is a separate offence under the criminal code.  While for most murder charges intent to kill is a main element, this does not apply if grievous bodily harm was done to the person, and death then resulted. The element of intent can also be waived if the actions of the person were likely to endanger human life, and the result was death.  If you are convicted of murder then then the punishment is life imprisonment, which cannot be mitigated, or varied. An indefinite sentence under part 10 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 may also be imposed. This means that the sentence will continue until a court discharges it. You can also be charged with accessory after the fact to murder, which can also result in life imprisonment even if you were not the one you actually killed the person. It is also an offence to threaten to kill another person in a letter, or other document, and if found guilty the penalty can be up to 7 years imprisonment.  It is also an offence to conspire with another to commit murder, and if found guilty a term of imprisonment for 14 years can be imposed.


In Queensland a manslaughter charge is defined in section 303 of the Criminal Code 1899, and will arise  when a person unlawfully kills another under circumstances that does not constitute murder. If the elements of the offence are one that meets the criteria for murder, but the circumstances surrounding the offence were one of provocation, and done in the heat of the moment, then the charge can be reduced to manslaughter. This does not apply however, to domestic relationships if the provocation was based on anything relating to the end, or change of their relationship.  It is important to note that if more than one person is involved in the killing of another person. One may be charged with manslaughter, but the other may still be charged with murder.  The defence of diminished responsibility can also be used to downgrade a murder charge to a charge of manslaughter. The penalties for manslaughter is life imprisonment, however unlike murder, mitigating circumstances of the offence can be taken into consideration by the Judge to impose a lesser sentence.

Attempted Murder

A charge of attempted murder is defined in section 306 of the Criminal Code 1899, and can be laid if you attempt to kill another person, or do any act which is likely to endanger human life. The person may live due to interceding medical treatment, or other reason, so the fact they didn’t die does not reduce the seriousness of the offence.   The penalty is life imprisonment, however as for manslaughter, the penalty can be reduced through mitigating circumstances being taken into consideration.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection, domestic violence and family law in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

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