Extending the definition of murder is a risky move

Following a review by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, in February 2019 the Queensland government introduced new laws to widen the definition of murder.  Previously, in order to convict a person of murder, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person both acted and intended to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.  The new changes mean that a person may be convicted of murder if their actions were “recklessly indifferent to life”.

The new laws are controversial, and for good reason.

First, it is problematic to equate reckless murder with intentional murder when the penalty involves a mandatory life sentence of imprisonment.  In most cases, a person who intentionally murders another person will be more morally blameworthy than a person who is reckless.

Second, the offence of manslaughter (which also carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment) already covers those circumstances of unlawful death where there is not actual murderous intent.

The new laws will increase the possibility of unintended consequences.  For instance, a domestic violence victim who re-actively kills her partner could end up being dealt with more harshly because of the new provisions.  The mandatory sentence provisions do not allow judges to properly distinguish between those who are more or less culpable.

You can read the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s review into child homicide laws here: