Manslaughter Charges - Queensland

Manslaughter

Sections 300 and 303 Criminal Code (Qld)

Get informed about the law, defences, and penalties in Queensland

Manslaughter is among the most serious criminal offences in Queensland. In Queensland, punishment for manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In Queensland, an unlawful killing that does not meet the definition of murder may be deemed manslaughter under section 303 of the Criminal Code (Qld).

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Manslaughter Charges

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Manslaughter Charges

Anderson Legal defends individuals facing criminal allegations relating to violent offences and misconduct.

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View our growing library of articles and webinars, which are accessible no matter the time of day or night.

Free Consultation

Anderson Legal provides a free, no-obligation consultation to understand whether this firm can assist you.

Manslaughter Charges

Before you can properly defend yourself against an allegation of any kind, you need to understand it.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Manslaughter Charges

Before you can properly defend yourself against an allegation of any kind, you need to understand it.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Queensland Law

Section 300 Criminal Code (Qld)

Section 300 of the Criminal Code makes unlawful killing an offence in Queensland. The law states:

Any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of a crime, which is called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances of the case.

From this section of the Criminal Code, definitions are then given for ‘murder‘ and ‘manslaughter’.

Definition of Manslaughter

Section 303 of the Criminal Code (Qld) sets out the definition of manslaughter. It states:

303 Definition of manslaughter

(1) A person who unlawfully kills another under such circumstances as not to constitute murder is guilty of manslaughter.

(2) An indictment charging an offence against this section with the circumstance of aggravation stated in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, section 161Q may not be presented without the consent of a Crown Law Officer.

Section 161Q of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 refers to the ‘serious organised crime circumstance of aggravation’, which mandates a significant mandatory minimum imprisonment in addition to any other penalty. It targets people who commit an offence of manslaughter in association with being a criminal organisation participant.

Proof of Manslaughter

For every criminal charge in Queensland, there are ‘elements’ that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove just one element means the person charged must be found not guilty. Sometimes there will be an alternative offence that a person may then be found guilty of instead if proof of the primary charge fails.

There are different ways elements may be expressed, depending on the issues in a given case. For example, in a given case, manslaughter may be proved by criminal negligence, whereas in other cases a death may be caused by a deliberate act. In all cases, for a person to be convicted of manslaughter it is necessary for the prosecution to prove:

  • The deceased alleged to be killed is dead;
  • The person charged caused the death; and,
  • The person charged did so unlawfully.

For the purposes of the criminal law in Queensland, the definition of ‘killing’ is set out in section 293 of the Criminal Code (Qld):

293 Definition of killing

Except as hereinafter set forth, any person who causes the death of another, directly or indirectly, by any means whatever, is deemed to have killed that other person

As a result of section 293 of the Criminal Code (Qld), it is unnecessary for the prosecution to prove that the defendant’s actions were the sole cause of death, or that it immediately result. The way causation is understood in Queensland draws on the case of Royall v The Queen [1991] HCA 27, a decision of the High Court of Australia. How it applies in Queensland was explained by the Queensland Court of Appeal in R v Sherrington & Kuchler [2001] QCA 105, where it was said at paragraph [4]:

Under s 300 of the Criminal Code, any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of a crime, “which is called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances”. By s 293 of the Code, a person is deemed to have killed another if he “causes the death of” that other directly or indirectly by any means whatever. In the application of that section, courts in Queensland follow the decision in Royall v The Queen (1991) 172 CLR 378, 411, that a person causes the death of another if his act or conduct is a substantial or significant cause of death, or substantially contributed to the death (172 CLR 378, 398, 423). See Lowrie & Ross (1999) 106 A Crim R 565, 570-571. As was said in Royall, that question is not a philosophical or scientific one, but a question to be determined by the jury applying their common sense to the facts as they find them, at the same time appreciating that the purpose of the inquiry is to attribute legal responsibility in a criminal matter: Royall v The Queen (1991) 172 CLR 378, 387, 425, 441.

The word ‘unlawfully’ means that the act or omission of the defendant causing the death is contrary to law and is not otherwise authorised, justified or excused. An example of when a person does not act unlawfully is when they act in self-defence.

In cases where multiple defendants are charged, Queensland law makes it possible for more than one person to be found guilty for the commission of an offence. For instance, a person may be found guilty if they aided or encouraged another person to do the act that causes death.

In reviewing an individual case, a criminal lawyer’s work often begins with a careful analysis of the evidence to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution case and, in particular, its ability to prove each element of the offence.


Possible Defences

The ‘presumption of innocence’

When people think about a ‘defence’ to a charge, such as manslaughter, they are generally thinking about what makes them ‘not guilty’ of the offence. However, it is for the prosecution to prove they are guilty – and to do so beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence means that the defendant carries no onus of proof. What that means in practical terms is that it is for the prosecution to disprove any defences raised on the evidence.

For a charge of manslaughter, the prosecution must prove the elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. However, it must also exclude all defences that may apply beyond reasonable doubt. Of course, a defendant may give or call evidence that points to their innocence. The decision to give or call evidence does not shift the onus of proof away from the prosecution.

How are defences raised on the evidence?

A defence may be raised on the evidence of both the prosecution and the defence. That is, people who give witness statements to police may indicate that an event occurred accidentally, or a person appeared to act in self-defence. Generally speaking, the prosecution has an obligation to call all material witnesses at a trial – even those unfavourable to its case. Alternatively, a person charged with an offence may also call their own witnesses at a trial, which may provide the basis for a defence to be raised.

One of the important roles of a criminal lawyer is to identify, as early as possible, the relevant defences that may apply in a given case. The reason it is important to do it as early as possible is to ensure relevant witnesses are found while matters are freshest in their mind, or to prevent other evidence from being lost or destroyed.

Common defences for ‘manslaughter’

The law requires the prosecution to prove that the manslaughter was caused ‘unlawfully’. That means if the prosecution cannot disprove the act or omission is not excused by law, the person charged must be found not guilty. In Queensland, possible defences include:

  • Accident
  • Compulsion
  • Defence of another
  • Extraordinary emergency
  • Insanity
  • Mistake of fact
  • Self defence
  • Unwilled act

Amongst the most important advice a lawyer can provide is whether or not a defence applies to an individual case. In some cases, multiple defences may apply. In others, no defence may be considered viable. Certain defences cannot operate together. For this reason, anybody facing a charge of manslaughter should seek early, authoritative advice from an experienced criminal lawyer to understand their legal position.

Excluded defences for ‘manslaughter’

In Queensland, the same defences do not apply to every offence. Certain defences are qualified or excluded based on the elements that may apply. For example, manslaughter does not require proof that an ‘assault’ occurred. For that reason, ‘provocation’ is not a defence to a charge of manslaughter because the defence of provocation under section 269 of the Criminal Code applies only to offences where ‘assault’ is an element.

In cases where criminal negligence is the basis for manslaughter, the defences of ‘unwilled act’ and ‘accident’ under section 23 of the Criminal Code (Qld) will not apply. That is because the commencing words of section 23 are “Subject to the express provisions of this Code relating to negligent acts and omissions”. This makes the defences subject to the duties held by people to prevent death or harm resulting to people through criminal negligence. Under the Criminal Code in Queensland, criminal negligence cases may be based on deaths caused as a result of failing one of the following duties:

  • Duty to provide the necessaries of life to people who are unable to care for themselves due to age, sickness, unsoundness of mind, detention, or some other cause (see section 285 of the Criminal Code (Qld));
  • Duty of people who have care of children under 16 (see section 286 of the Criminal Code (Qld));
  • Duty of people doing dangerous acts (see section 288 of the Criminal Code (Qld));
  • Duty of persons in charge of dangerous things (see section 289 of the Criminal Code (Qld); and,
  • Duty to do certain acts (see section 290 of the Criminal Code (Qld).

The offence of industrial manslaughter is also based on the concept of negligence and the failure to take reasonable precautions in relation to the health, safety and welfare of workers.


Possible Penalties

Maximum Penalty

Under section 310 of the Criminal Code (Qld), the maximum penalty for manslaughter in Queensland is life imprisonment.

Minimum Penalty

Generally, there is no minimum penalty that applies to a charge of manslaughter. However, if a person is convicted of manslaughter and the circumstance of aggravation that the offence was committed as a criminal organisation participant, then the following minimum penalty applies:

  • When a person is convicted of committing the offence and the serious organised crime circumstance of aggravation applies, 7 years imprisonment is automatically imposed cumulatively on the sentence the court decides. The 7 years imprisonment must be served wholly in prison, on top of whatever other penalty is otherwise required to be served.

Sentencing in Queensland

For a charge of manslaughter, the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) sets out a range of relevant sentencing considerations, including that the principle that imprisonment should be imposed as a last resort does not apply. For a homicide offence like manslaughter, the law states that the court must have primary regard to the following considerations:

  • the risk of physical harm to any members of the community if a custodial sentence were not imposed;
  • the need to protect any members of the community from that risk;
  • the personal circumstances of any victim of the offence;
  • the circumstances of the offence, including the death of or any injury to a member of the public or any loss or damage resulting from the offence;
  • the nature or extent of the violence used, or intended to be used, in the commission of the offence;
  • any disregard by the offender for the interests of public safety;
  • the past record of the offender, including any attempted rehabilitation and the number of previous offences of any type committed;
  • the antecedents, age and character of the offender;
  • any remorse or lack of remorse of the offender;
  • any medical, psychiatric, prison or other relevant report in relation to the offender;
  • anything else about the safety of members of the community that the sentencing court considers relevant.

If the offence is classified as a ‘domestic violence offence’, then the court will treat that as an aggravating factor unless exceptional circumstances are shown. Due to the number of issues that can aggravate or mitigate the punishment imposed by a court, experience shows that the earlier a person facing a charge obtains sound advice from an experienced lawyer, the better their chance of securing the best outcome possible for their situation.

Possible Outcomes

Given the offence of manslaughter may be committed in an infinite number of ways, and those who do so come from all different backgrounds and stages of life, the possible punishment is similarly broad. As Chief Justice de Jersey summarised in the case of R v WAW [2013] QCA 22 at paragraph [32]:

The court has repeatedly emphasized the wide “range” applicable to sentencing for manslaughter, because of the infinitely varying circumstances in which that offence is committed.

In Queensland, a person convicted of manslaughter may have their offence declared a ‘serious violent offence’ under Part 9A of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld). The effect of an offence being declared a ‘serious violent offence’ is the offender must serve at least 80% of their term of imprisonment before they are eligible for release.

There are many offences under Queensland law that may have such declarations made, including:

The full list of applicable offences is contained in Schedule 1 of the Penalties and Sentences Act.

The declaration is automatic when a person is convicted of a prescribed offence and sentenced to at least 10 years’ imprisonment.

A court has the discretion to declare an offence a ‘serious violent offence’ if imposing between 5 and 10 years’ imprisonment for a charge of manslaughter.

Generally, courts have an unfettered discretion in determining whether to declare an offence a serious violent offence. However, in any case involving violence to a child under 12 or a crime that results in the death of a child under 12 years, the law requires a sentencing court to treat the age of the child as an aggravating factor in deciding whether to declare the offender to be convicted of a serious violent offence.

In some cases, a charge relating to manslaughter may be substituted for, or charged in addition to, other homicide offences. The prosecution may determine that a more or less serious charge may be appropriate, based on the evidence. Related crimes include:


Expert Criminal Defence

Although based in Brisbane, Anderson Legal is frequently engaged to defend people facing criminal allegations across Queensland. If you are dealing with an allegation relating to manslaughter and need advice and representation, Anderson Legal offers comprehensive criminal defence services for its clients. This includes:

  • providing advice relating to allegations made or documents served on our clients;
  • identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the case alleged against our clients;
  • advising clients on options relating to obtaining evidence, including expert evidence;
  • communicating on behalf of its clients with police, courts, and others;
  • resolving, where appropriate, criminal charges through negotiation;
  • representing clients in trials and setnences before all courts; and,
  • filing and litigating appeals against wrongful convictions and unjust sentences.

This firm places an emphasis on providing clear guidance so that our clients are placed in a real position to make informed decisions about their options and their preferred path forward. Anderson Legal provides clear, transparent disclosure of its legal costs at every stage.

  • Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, is an award-winning lawyer who has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021).
  • Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Queensland Court of Appeal, Royal Commissions, and multiple other courts dealing with trials and other hearings, Andrew Anderson has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.
  • Prior to operating a law firm, Andrew Anderson worked as a Principal Crown Prosecutor in Queensland and barrister in private practice at 8 Petrie Terrace Chambers in Brisbane. His depth of courtroom advocacy experience ranges from straightforward cases right through to complex homicide trials and appeals.
  • Anderson Legal is a law firm that is dedicated to the best ideals of the legal profession. Seeking to exceed client expectations and fighting for justice is an everyday pursuit.

Limitations on general information

Each legal issue is unique. The information on this page and website cannot – and is not meant to – substitute legal consultation. It is designed to outline information of a general nature if you want to learn more about manslaughter charges, particularly as it relates to anybody facing an issue of this kind in Queensland. Anybody dealing with a manslaughter charge ought to obtain expert legal advice and guidance as soon as possible.

No content accessible on the website is created to provide specific legal answers or advice. It is designed to provide general information about legal matters and related concepts. It should not be used as, or in substitute of, your own legal advice or other advice as appropriate.

To the extent allowed by law, no warranty, condition, or guarantee is provided in relation to the accuracy or reliability of any information contained on this site. Content may be changed from time to time without notice.

If you face a charge relating to manslaughter, contact Anderson Legal. This firm provides expert advice and representation for people needing assistance to defend themselves against unjust accusations.

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On-Demand Resources

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On-Demand Resources

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Jury TrialsThe Jury Act 1995 (Qld) and Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) set out a range of important procedures relevant to jury trials in Queensland. Having an understanding of jury trial procedures can assist defendants, witnesses and others to know what may occur during a criminal trial.Viewcourt-processestrials-sentences
Sentencing HearingsIn Queensland, the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) sets out a range of sentencing guidelines, possible punishments and procedures relevant to sentencing hearings. Understanding the issues that are relevant to sentencing hearings and what influences outcomes is essential to avoiding unjust penalties and results.Viewcourt-processestrials-sentences
Evidence DisclosureIt is a fundamental to a fair trial that an accused person knows the particulars of the charge they face as well as the potential witnesses and evidence. Evidence disclosure is an essential part of the criminal justice system. Failure to disclose critical evidence can lead to miscarriages of justice, resulting in convictions being quashed.Viewcourt-processesevidence
Criminal AppealsA criminal appeal allows a person to appeal against their conviction or appeal against the severity of their sentence, in an attempt to overturn the result. Appeals often involve complex questions of law or fact. Unlike when the prosecution bears the onus of proof at trial, on appeal, the appellant must demonstrate error.Viewcourt-processescriminal-appeals
Police Seizure of EvidenceThe Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) sets out the powers of police to retain, return, and forfeit property that is seized. Important rights exist for individuals and businesses to access seized property, as well as to seek its return through applications and court orders to lessen inconvenience and disruption.Viewpolice-investigationspolice-powers
Cooperating with PoliceSuspects in police investigations are often faced with a choice as to whether to cooperate with the police to any degree. Cooperation with law enforcement agencies can take many forms - it may be minimal and do little to assist the investigation or can involve extensive cooperation or ‘a deal’ that results in a significantly lighter sentence.Viewpolice-investigationscooperating-with-police
The Right to SilenceIn Queensland, the right to silence is recognised as important but it is not an absolute right. While often relevant to police suspects facing questioning, in some situations it can be an offence to not answer questions of a person in authority. In rare cases, unfavourable inferences may be drawn because a defendant remains silent.Viewpolice-investigationscooperating-with-police
WHSQ – Coercive PowersInspectors with Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) have powers that allow them to compel people to provide information and access to documents and other records, which they may seize. They may also compel people to answer their questions. Getting advice can be crucial to understanding your rights and obligations.Viewcoercive-investigations whswork-health-safety-queensland
CCC – Coercive PowersThe Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is an independent agency in Queensland that has responsibility for combating major crime and corruption in Queensland. It has powers of surveillance, investigation and the use of coercive powers to gather intelligence, undertake investigations and manage enforcement proceedings.Viewcoercive-investigations corporate-crimecrime-corruption-commission
ASIC – Coercive PowersThe Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has coercive powers to compel the production of documents or other evidence relevant to an investigation. The powers are broad and non-compliance can have criminal consequences. Evidence obtained through such investigations may be used later in court proceedings.Viewcoercive-investigations corporate-crimeaustralian-securities-investments-commission
ACIC – Coercive PowersThe Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), still also referred to as the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), conducts secretive operations and investigations into serious criminal activity. It has the power to compel individuals to participate in examinations and to serve notices to produce documents and other information.Viewcoercive-investigations corporate-crimeaustralian-criminal-intelligence-commission
Industrial ManslaughterIndustrial manslaughter is a relatively new criminal offence in Queensland, having commenced on 23 October 2017. It targets business operators and senior officers in corporations who, through negligence, cause the death of a worker the course of carrying out their work. The maximum penalty is up to 20 years imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offences whshomicide-offences penalties-prosecutions
Unlawful Striking Causing DeathIn Queensland, punishment for unlawful striking causing death carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Introduced to target the prevalence of 'coward punch' deaths, it removes what were common defences in cases where it is alleged the person killed was struck to the head or neck.Viewcriminal-offenceshomicide-offences
ManslaughterManslaughter may be proved in a number of ways, such as by criminal negligence or a deliberate act. An unlawful killing that does not meet the definition of murder may be deemed manslaughter. In Queensland, punishment for manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offenceshomicide-offences
Proceeds of CrimeProceeds of crime offences exist to make it unlawful to receive or possess property that is tainted by crime. While proceeds of crime laws are often used in relation to drug offences, their reach under the Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act 2002 (Qld) and Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) covers all types of serious criminal offences.Viewcriminal-offencesfraud-and-financial-crimes
FraudFraud is a serious criminal offence in Queensland, which may be punishable by actual imprisonment. The essential element of the charge is proof of 'dishonesty', which requires the prosecution to prove that what a defendant did was dishonest by the standards of ordinary honest people.Viewcriminal-offencesfraud-and-financial-crimes
ExtortionExtortion is a serious criminal offence, which may be punishable by actual imprisonment. While it is most commonly charged when threats of violence are used to blackmail a person to hand over property, other forms of coercion or intimidation can give rise to the offence of extortion in Queensland.Viewcriminal-offencesfraud-and-financial-crimes violent-offences
Centrelink FraudCentrelink fraud (sometimes referred to as 'Welfare Fraud' or 'Social Security Fraud') is regarded as a serious criminal offence in Australia, which is punishable by actual imprisonment. There are a number of different charges that may apply under the Commonwealth Criminal Code for cases of this kind.Viewcriminal-offencesfraud-and-financial-crimes
Drug Importation OffencesDrug importation offences under the Commonwealth Criminal Code can attract some of the highest penalties for drug offences in Australia, which generally reflects the commercial and coordinated efforts involved in such offences. The maximum penalty for importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs is life imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesdrug-offences
Possessing Dangerous DrugsFor a drug possession case in Queensland, the prosecution sets out to prove that (1) the person charged (2) unlawfully (4) possessed (5) a dangerous drug. Penalties vary considerably, from drug diversion orders in minor cases through to lengthy terms of imprisonment for serious cases of possessing dangerous drugs.Viewcriminal-offencesdrug-offences
Producing Dangerous DrugsProducing dangerous drugs is a serious criminal offence in Queensland. The definition of the word 'produce' in the Drugs Misuse Act (Qld) is extremely broad and allows individuals to be charged with producing a dangerous drug even though there may never be any dangerous drugs actually produced.Viewcriminal-offencesdrug-offences
Supplying Dangerous DrugsSupply dangerous drug charges a serious criminal offences in Queensland, which can be punishable by imprisonment. The definition of 'supply' in the Drugs Misuse Act (Qld) is extremely broad and allows individuals to be charged with supplying a dangerous drug even though there may never be a transaction or actual exchange of drugs.Viewcriminal-offencesdrug-offences
Drug TraffickingFor a drug trafficking case in Queensland, the prosecution sets out to prove that (1) the person charged (2) carried on the business of (3) unlawfully (4) trafficking in a (5) dangerous drug. In Queensland, the maximum penalty for carrying on the business of unlawful trafficking is 25 years' imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesdrug-offences
Attempted MurderFor an attempted murder case, the prosecution sets out to prove that the person charged unlawfully attacked or did something to another person with the intention of killing them, using means capable of doing so, but without death resulting. In Queensland, the maximum penalty for attempted murder is life imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offenceshomicide-offences violent-offences
Serious AssaultSerious assault is an offence in Queensland that is commonly charged when police officers are allegedly assaulted in the execution of their duties, the offence is also charged in other circumstances, such as in cases of assaults of elderly people or working corrective services officers.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
Grievous Bodily HarmIn Queensland, grievous bodily harm is an offence under section 320 of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld). Suffering life threatening or permanent injuries are examples of grievous bodily harm. The offence is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment and may be deemed a 'serious violent offence'.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
Common AssaultCommon assault is a criminal offence, which relates to the unlawful application of force, or threatened application of force in some circumstances, without consent. An assault is unlawful when it is not authorised, justified or excused. In Queensland, the offence of common assault has a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
Unlawful WoundingUnlawful wounding is a serious criminal offence, often punishable by actual imprisonment. The word 'wounding' refers to a break of the true skin, often by a sharp object. A wound may be caused in any number of ways, such as by a knife or a bottle. The maximum penalty is 7 years imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
Assault Occasioning Bodily HarmAssault occasioning bodily harm requires proof of an unlawful assault that caused bodily harm. The term 'bodily harm' refers to any bodily injury that interferes with health or comfort. The maximum penalty is 7 years' imprisonment, although if a circumstance of aggravation applies, it rises to a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
Malicious Act With IntentMalicious act with intent is a serious criminal offence, generally punishable by actual imprisonment. In Queensland, it generally is charged in cases in which a serious injury has been caused by someone who intended to cause such a result. The maximum penalty for a charge of malicious act with intent is life imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offencesviolent-offences
MurderThere are multiple definitions of what constitutes murder in Queensland, including murder by intentional harm or through ‘reckless indifference’. In Queensland, punishment for murder carries mandatory life imprisonment with a current minimum non-parole period of at least 20 years imprisonment.Viewcriminal-offenceshomicide-offences

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