What’s Manslaughter?

Someone asked me the following: If I’m driving along the road in Victoria, obeying all the road rules and someone jumps out in front of my car and I kill them, would I be liable for manslaughter?

Well, I hope this hasn’t happened and it’s only hypothetical!

Ok, so there are a couple of things going on here but first let’s define manslaughter. Manslaughter is a common law offence, that means that it’s not defined in the Criminal Act 1958 (Vic) but rather by the case law that judges hand down in their decisions based on cases before them.

WHAT’S MANSLAUGHTER?

There are two different types of manslaughter, negligent manslaughter and manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act. Both different types of manslaughter have different requirements that need to be proved by the prosecution.

They both require one person killing another but with slightly different motives or reasons.  Under negligent manslaughter the prosecution has to prove that it was one person’s negligent act that caused the death of a person, whereas under manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act the prosecution needs to prove a person committed a dangerous or illegal action that caused the death of another.

HERE COMES THE POLICE.

The police would involve themselves with this immediately.  You may well have been following all the road rules as enacted in Victoria but the police will need to be satisfied that this is true. Even if you’ve been following all the road rules like a model driver; even the weird ones like not having an animal between you and your motorbike handlebars:

“The rider of a motor bike must not ride with an animal on the motor bike between the rider and the handlebars, or in another position that interferes with the rider’s ability to control the motorbike or to have a clear view of the road.”

— Road Safety Rules 2009 (Vic) R 297(3)

Because Victoria Police are a professional outfit they will investigate this matter and prepare a brief for the Victorian Coroner. The Coroner in Victoria is tasked with investigating deaths that have been accidental or unexpected, like the one above.

HERE COMES THE CORONER

The coronial process then plays out. The Coroner would investigate the matter using the evidence gathered by Victoria Police. If it can be determined that you were following all the road rules, you didn’t have an animal between you and your motorbike handlebars, that the person that was struck just ‘appeared out of nowhere’ and that you were driving with care, and due skill then you most likely would not be charged with manslaughter.

Maybe not even culpable driving, assuming that you followed ALL the rules, ALL of them.

You may get off without charges or maybe some sort of small penalty, like a fine or to pay compensation into a fund.  I do think though that if you have done nothing wrong, and the accident could not have been prevented then you would be charge free.  That doesn’t mean you would be remorse free, this would still be an awful burden to bear regardless.

This isn’t the end of the matter though.  The Coroner’s investigation could find that the stretch of road you were driving in would be prone to accidents based on its design, or that maybe that section of road needs barriers so people don’t cross it.  The Coroner would hand these determinations and findings down in a Coronial Court hearing and would pass them on to the government to act on.

IN CONCLUSION:

Would you be charged with murder or manslaughter , no (provided you did everything as required by law), would this process be stressful and awful? Yep.

Would the police be involved? Absolutely.

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