I too rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Manslaughter and Related Offences) Bill 2020. This bill strengthens Victoria’s manslaughter laws to ensure that those who commit some of the most serious crimes receive sentences that better reflect their culpability for causing death. It also delivers on a government election commitment to introduce a new offence of homicide by firearm for cases of manslaughter committed by discharging a firearm. The Crimes Amendment (Manslaughter and Related Offences) Bill 2020 will make very important laws, including increasing the maximum penalty for manslaughter and the related offences of child homicide and workplace manslaughter from 20 years to 25 years imprisonment. It will introduce a new offence of homicide by firearm, and it will clarify the relationship between child homicide, homicide by firearm and manslaughter.
I will start by talking about increasing the maximum penalty for manslaughter and related offences, but before I move forward I wish to highlight some differences between murder and manslaughter. For murder to have been committed the offender either must have intended to kill or to cause really serious injury to the victim or must have known that their actions would probably cause death or really serious injury and acted recklessly despite knowledge of that probable outcome. If that intent or reckless disregard for the probable outcome cannot be proved, then an offender, even if originally charged with murder, may be convicted of manslaughter instead.
However, not all manslaughter cases resemble murders that cannot be proved. Manslaughter also covers deaths that were clearly unintentional and closely resemble accidents. A person may commit manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act which causes death if there was an appreciable risk of causing serious injury. Manslaughter may also be committed by criminal negligence where a person commits an act of gross negligence causing death. Sometimes such outcomes can cause confusion, anger and frustration amongst the wider community and the victim’s loved ones. It is understandable that such outcomes can be difficult to accept. Communities can feel that the punishment may not have met their expectations. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 20 years imprisonment. This is the lowest maximum penalty for this offence within Australia.
The government made an election promise to deliver on community expectations. Increasing the maximum penalty reflects community expectations that sentences for manslaughter should be higher than current practice. It indicates the government’s concern that sentences for manslaughter in the most egregious cases have not adequately reflected the seriousness of the offending, especially in cases involving high moral culpability. The increase will better align Victoria’s maximum penalty for manslaughter with penalties in other Australian jurisdictions, particularly New South Wales.
However, the justice system must remain just and fair, hence courts will maintain the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence by taking into consideration the seriousness of the offender’s particular conduct and the moral culpability of the offender. This will retain the current parity between the maximum penalty for manslaughter and these offences. We want to send a clear message; we want to tell the community that past sentences for the most serious offences of this nature were not adequate.
It is expected that future sentencing will better reflect the seriousness of the offence. The reforms are not expected to significantly impact the number of guilty pleas to manslaughter. Most manslaughter charges result in guilty pleas. Judges will continue to take into account an offender’s guilty plea as a factor which results in a lower sentence. By introducing a new homicide by firearm offence through this bill we want to make sure that it is understood that manslaughter involving a firearm should generally be treated as more serious.
There have been several shooting cases in recent years where offenders were sentenced for manslaughter because they claimed they did not intend the firearm to discharge. Even though some of these cases were considered serious cases of manslaughter, the maximum available penalty, 20 years, meant the sentences imposed fell short of victim and community expectations. This bill introduces a new offence of homicide by firearm with a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and a standard sentence of 13 years imprisonment. Standard sentences were introduced in 2017 to provide clear sentencing guidance to the courts for 12 of the most serious criminal offences, including murder, rape and child sex offences.
Women are usually—well, actually almost always—the victims who did not deserve what they got. They did no wrong. They should not be forgotten. They include Karen Belej, who was shot and killed by her partner in 2016; Tamara Turner, shot and killed by her partner in 2016; Rekiah O’Donnell, shot and killed by her partner in 2013; and Kara Doyle, also shot and killed by her partner in 2013. I give my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to all others who have been killed in such circumstances. The government believes that offenders and criminals who use firearms recklessly and cause the death of another person should receive tougher judgement, regardless of intentions. We as the Victorian government know how serious these offences are and sentencing should be handled accordingly.
The Attorney-General acknowledged the determination of the families of Karen Belej and Rekiah O’Donnell in pursuing instrumental change. This bill is a crucial delivery of the commitment that the former Attorney-General made in October 2018 to the family of Karen Belej. This bill cannot cure the grief and the pain of Karen’s family or the families of other women who were killed in similar circumstances. But we hope that this bill will bring some measure of comfort. We hope this will ensure that future offenders receive higher and appropriate sentences.
In terms of workplace manslaughter and child homicide, this bill will also raise the maximum penalty to 25 years for two specific subtypes of manslaughter, which are child homicide and workplace manslaughter. Child homicide is a discrete charge which can be laid in the case of manslaughter where the victim was under the age of six. The maximum penalty is currently the same as manslaughter, 20 years. This offence was introduced in response to concern that the sentences imposed in cases involving the manslaughter of young children by someone responsible for their care were too low. Similarly, the maximum penalty for the recently introduced offence of workplace manslaughter is currently 20 years because it is appropriate that it carry the same maximum penalty as other forms of manslaughter. This bill increases the penalty to 25 years in order to maintain consistency across all forms of manslaughter. The maximum penalty should reflect that objectively.
It is equally serious as common-law manslaughter. The bill makes it clear that in manslaughter cases involving the death of a child under six years caused by a firearm the prosecution can decide whether to charge the offender with manslaughter, child homicide or homicide by firearm. I commend the bill to the house.