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Murder And Manslaughter In Sydney

Murder and manslaughter in Sydney and New South Wales are among the most serious of all criminal offences. They are homicide offences, meaning offences involving one person being killed by another. New South Wales has several other homicide offences. These offences may be laid as an alternative to manslaughter.

In New South Wales, provocation is available as a partial defence to reduce a conviction for murder to one for manslaughter. Other defences available to murder include self-defence and duress.

The legislation on murder and manslaughter in Sydney

Murder and manslaughter in New South Wales are set out in the Crimes Act 1900.


Under section 18 of the Crimes Act, a person is guilty of murder if they cause another person’s death:

  • with reckless indifference to human life or
  • with the intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm or
  • in an attempt to commit a serious crime (that is, a crime punishable by imprisonment for 25 years or more).

The NSW definition of murder encompasses situations where a person kills another person intentionally or recklessly as well as where a person kills another person in the process of committing a crime such as rape or robbery.


A fatal assault committed in any other circumstances than those set out above is manslaughter. However, a person is not guilty of manslaughter if they commit an act that is not malicious or for which they have a lawful excuse.

Under the common law, a person must have been grossly negligent to be guilty of manslaughter. A manslaughter charge can be defended by demonstrating that the accused was not grossly negligent, did not do the acts alleged, or by arguing that they were acting in self-defence or were under duress.

Penalties for murder and manslaughter in Sydney

The maximum sentence for murder in Sydney or elsewhere in NEw SOuth Wales is imprisonment for the term of the offender’s natural life. However, a lesser penalty than life imprisonment can be imposed for murder.

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 25 years imprisonment.

Partial defence of extreme provocation for murder in Sydney

New South Wales retains the partial defence to murder of extreme provocation. If an accused is found to have killed the deceased in response to extreme provocation, they will be found guilty of manslaughter and not murder if:

  • Their act was in response to conduct of the deceased;
  • The deceased’s conduct amounted to a serious indictable offence;
  • The deceased’s conduct caused the accused to lose their self-control;
  • The deceased’s conduct was such that it could have caused an ordinary person to lose self-control to the point of forming the intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to a person.

Conduct is not extreme provocation if it consists only of a non-violent sexual advance.

Defences to murder and manslaughter in Sydney

A number of legal defences can be used to defend a charge of murder or manslaughter.


A person is not guilty of a charge of murder or manslaughter if they killed the deceased in self-defence. This is because the law recognises that people have a right to defend themselves from physical attacks or threatened attacks. Self-defence includes defence of other persons.

When a defendant raises self-defence, it is up to the prosecution to prove that the accused was not acting in self-defence. If the prosecution cannot prove this, the court must acquit the accused.

For the defence of self-defence to succeed, the defence must show that the accused had a reasonable belief that what they did was necessary in self-defence. Whether the accused’s actions were reasonable in defence of themself or another will depend on the threat that was faced.


A person charged with manslaughter can rely on the defence of duress. A person acts under duress when they commit acts only because of threats of death or really serious injury if the y do not commit the acts. The threats must be sufficient that they would cause a person of ordinary courage to yield.

If the defence raises duress as a defence, the prosecution bears the burden of proving that the accused did not commit the offence under duress.

Other defences that may be advanced in contesting a manslaughter charge are automatism and involuntary intoxication.

Other homicide offences

Infanticide is an offence that occurs when a woman kills her baby (aged under twelve months) because as a result of giving birth, the balance of her mind is disturbed. Infanticide can be charged as an alternative to the offence of manslaughter and it carries the same penalty.

Section 25A of the Crimes Act also makes it an offence, punishable by imprisonment for 20 years, to assault a person by hitting them, causing their death. This is called ‘one punch manslaughter.’ A person can be found guilty of one punch manslaughter regardless of whether or not the victim’s death was reasonably foreseeable.

Which court will hear the matter?

Charges of murder and manslaughter are strictly indictable offences, which can only be heard in the Supreme Court.

If you need legal advice on a criminal law matter or any other legal matter please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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