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Like murder, manslaughter requires that:

  • the victim has died; and
  • an act of the defendant’s contributed significantly to their death.

However, the final element that is required to establish murder, that is, that the defendant intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm or knew that their actions would result in death or bodily harm, is not present in a case of manslaughter. This is because the law recognises that there is a significant distinction to be made between a death caused as a result of a person’s deliberate intent or recklessness and one that, although caused as a result of a person’s actions, was not intended by them to result in such harm.

Within the offence of manslaughter the common law recognises different categories of manslaughter. A distinction is often made between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter occurs where all the elements for the offence of murder are met but liability is reduced due to mitigating circumstances such as provocation.

Involuntary manslaughter involves the following categories:

  • Unlawful or dangerous act: death from an unlawful or dangerous act carrying with it an appreciable risk of serious injury is manslaughter where the defendant exposed the victim to an appreciable risk of serious injury. A frequent example of this sort of case are single punch, or "King-hit", assault cases, where the defendant’s sole punch to the victim (intending to hurt but not to kill) results in their death.

    Where the victim has engaged willingly in the dangerous act, consent on the part of the victim to the dangerous act is not a defence. An example of this is R v Cato(1976) 1 All ER 260. In this case the victim engaged in injecting heroin with the assistance of the defendant. Both defendant and victim were responsible for measuring out their own doses with the agreement that they would then administer the shot to the other person.

  • Criminal Negligence: a very high degree of negligence is required – inattention or a simple lack of care is not sufficient. However, where behaviour is so reckless as to show a disregard for the life and safety of others this will generally meet the test of criminal negligence [see Andrews v DPP(1937) AC 576]. The negligent act must be a substantial factor in the cause of death, see R v Cato (1976) 1 All ER 260.

Maximum penalty:

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment or for a fine or both [s 13(1) Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA)].

If the victim's death was caused by the convicted person's use of a motor vehicle, the court must order that the person be disqualified from driving for a minimum of 10 years [s 13(2) Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA)].

[See also: Defences].

Manslaughter  :  Last Revised: Thu Jul 24th 2014
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.