In Victoria, there are different offences that relate to the unlawful killing of another person. Aside from murder, these include:

  • Voluntary manslaughter;
  • Involuntary manslaughter;
  • Single punch manslaughter (King hit manslaughter);
  • Workplace manslaughter; and
  • Suicide pacts.

Understanding Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter

There are significant differences between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. These differences can have extensive implications on the outcome of a trial, or the sentence if guilty. 

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter, as defined under common law and Section 5 of the Crimes Act, entails intentional killing with mitigating factors. Unlike murder, where premeditation is central, voluntary manslaughter involves intentional actions that result in death, albeit under circumstances that may mitigate the accused’s culpability.

To establish guilt in a case of voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution must prove several key elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The accused’s act directly caused the death of the victim.
  • The act was committed consciously, voluntarily, and deliberately.
  • The act was unlawful and devoid of legal justification.
  • The act posed a significant danger.

Importantly, the intent to kill is not a prerequisite for conviction. Even if the accused didn’t intend to cause death, their conscious and deliberate actions leading to the fatal outcome suffice for culpability.

What sets voluntary manslaughter apart from murder?

While both offences involve intentional actions resulting in death, voluntary manslaughter hinges on mitigating circumstances that reduce the severity of the crime. It’s often characterised by a lack of premeditation and may arise from sudden provocations or emotional disturbances.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter, also recognised under common law and sometimes termed negligent manslaughter, presents a distinct legal category. It entails an unlawful killing without the intent to cause harm or death, typically due to recklessness or negligence on the part of the accused.

To establish guilt in a case of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecution must demonstrate:

  • The accused owed a duty of care to the victim.
  • The accused breached this duty through criminal negligence or an unlawful, dangerous act.
  • The breach was conscious and voluntary.
  • The breach directly caused the victim’s death.

Manslaughter through criminal negligence involves a failure to meet the duty of care owed to the victim, while manslaughter through an unlawful, dangerous act entails engaging in prohibited behavior that results in death. Involuntary manslaughter diverges from murder in that the fatal outcome arises from reckless or negligent conduct rather than deliberate intent.

Single Punch Manslaughter

Under section 4A of the Crimes Act, which was introduced in 2014, an accused may be charged with single punch or strike taken to be dangerous manslaughter if the single punch or strike was:

  • Delivered to any part of a person’s head or neck; and
  • By itself causes an injury to the head or neck

Under section 4A (2), a single punch or strike is to be taken to be a dangerous act for the purposes of the law relating to manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act (involuntary manslaughter).

Moreover, a single punch or strike may be the cause of a person’s death even if the injury from which the person dies is not the injury that the punch or strike itself caused to the person’s head or neck but another injury resulting from an impact to the person’s head or neck, or to another part of the person’s body, caused by the punch or strike. So, for example, if a person punches another person to the head, and that other person falls, hits their head on the road, and dies from the injury resulting from their head hitting the road, the punch may be the cause of their death.

Workplace Manslaughter

Introduced in 2020, section 39G of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) establishes that workplace manslaughter is now a criminal charge in Victoria. The workplace manslaughter offence applies to instances of negligent conduct by an employer, duty holders, or officers of an organisation. This conduct must breach specific duties outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and result in the death of another person who was owed such duty. This can include employers, subcontractors or individuals owed a duty within a business premise.

It’s important to note that the workplace manslaughter provisions do not apply retrospectively. This means that only fatalities occurring after July 1, 2020, are subject to consideration under these provisions.

The elements of workplace manslaughter offence are:

  • the person charged must be a body corporate or a person who is not an employee or volunteer;
  • they must have owed the victim a specified duty under the OHS Act;
  • they breached the duty owed by negligent conduct;
  • the breach of the duty caused the death of the victim; and
  • if the person charged is a natural person they must have acted consciously and voluntarily when breaching the duty owed.

Negligent conduct – what needs to be established?

For the purposes of workplace manslaughter, conduct is deemed ‘negligent’ if it meets the following criteria:

  • It represents a significant departure from the standard of care expected from a reasonable person under the given circumstances.
  • It poses a substantial risk of death, serious injury, or severe illness.

Negligent conduct encompasses not only actions but also failures to act (omissions). For instance, this may include scenarios where:

  • Adequate management, control, or supervision of employees is lacking.
  • Reasonable measures to rectify hazardous situations are not taken, resulting in a high risk of death, serious injury, or severe illness.

The evaluation is based on the established common law test for criminal negligence in Victoria. 

Suicide Pacts

Under section 6B of the crimes act, in the event that an individual causes the death of another person as part of a suicide pact, yet survives themselves, they may be charged with manslaughter rather than murder. In such cases, the burden rests on the prosecution to substantiate all facets of a murder charge, while the defence must demonstrate that the death transpired in pursuit of a suicide pact. Those found guilty of this offence could potentially face a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

How Galbally Parker Manslaughter Lawyers Can Help

Manslaughter charges are complex, and differ in terms of intent, circumstances, and penalties. It is vital to have experienced legal representation to navigate these complexities. At Galbally Parker Lawyers, we specialise in providing the guidance and defence needed to handle such serious charges effectively. Contact our team of manslaughter lawyers today to ensure your case is managed with the utmost care and expertise.