People who kill in Western Australia face the prospect of tougher penalties under new homicide laws introduced to Parliament today.
Attorney General Jim McGinty said the proposed changes would deliver severe sentencing options that were more in line with community expectations.
“A key change is the consolidation of the charges of wilful murder and murder into one charge of murder,” Mr McGinty said.
“For the first time, people convicted of murder could face a ‘never to be released’ sentence.
“The minimum non-parole period for murder will increase from seven to 10 years.
“For the first time there will be no maximum limit on the non parole period, leaving it open for judges to decide the length of the non-parole period - they could set 35, 40 or even 50 years.
“By comparision, under the current law murder carries a sentence of life imprisonment with a seven to 14-year non-parole period and wilful murder carries a 15 to 30-year non-parole period.”
The Attorney General said he expected the new simple consolidated offence of murder would result in more guilty pleas, fewer trials and more convictions - saving court resources and reducing stress for victims’ families.
The new laws were developed following recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission of WA late last year.
The consolidation of murder and wilful murder will avoid the problems encountered in prosecuting Dante Arthurs over the killing of an eight-year-old girl in a suburban shopping centre. The Director of Public Prosecutions could not pursue the more serious charge of wilful murder against Mr Arthurs because of concerns about proving that he intended to kill the girl; and instead accepted a guilty plea to the lesser charge of murder.
The offence of murder will carry a presumptive penalty of life imprisonment. In cases where the offender is unlikely to pose a threat to the safety of the community when released and where a life sentence would be clearly unjust, such as those involved in mercy killings, infanticide or battered spouses, the court will have the option of imposing a finite sentence of up to 20 years.
Other changes include:
· The laws regarding self-defence will be significantly expanded to ensure people
who kill as a genuine means of self-preservation or to protect others, are not treated as criminals.
· Where an accused has genuinely killed in self-defence, but made an error of judgment in assessing the appropriate response or force, a partial defence of excessive self-defence will be available. If successfully argued, this will see a charge of murder reduced to manslaughter.
· The partial defence of provocation will be abolished for homicide cases as it condones violence and can be better dealt with in sentencing.
· The offence of infanticide will be removed, because it can more adequately be dealt with by the new murder offence combined with sentencing discretion.
· A new offence of culpable driving (other than of a motor vehicle) causing death or grievous bodily harm will be introduced, similar to dangerous driving causing death.
· A new offence of unlawful assault causing death will enable people who kill another through a so called ‘one punch’ death to be convicted for the killing, regardless of whether death was a foreseeable outcome of the original assault. The offence will also be available as an alternative verdict to murder and manslaughter. This is expected to result in a greater number of successful convictions. The offence will carry a maximum 10-year sentence.
· The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death will increase from four years’ imprisonment to 10 years.
Attorney General's office - 9422 3000