Murder and Manslaughter (NT)

Murder and manslaughter are among the most serious criminal offences in the Northern Territory. They are dealt with by the Supreme Court and can attract lengthy terms of imprisonment. This page deals with murder and manslaughter in the NT.

Murder in the NT

Under section 156 of the Criminal Code 1983, a person is guilty of murder if they:

  • engage in conduct;
  • the conduct causes the death of another person; and
  • the person intends to cause the death of a person or to cause serious harm to a person.

In the NT, murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years non-parole period. The mandatory sentence of life imprisonment means that courts cannot impose a sentence that is less than life with 20 years non-parole. In some cases, the court may impose a longer non-parole period.

However, when the court is sentencing a young person (under the age of 18) for murder, it may sentence them to a shorter period if it is appropriate.

Manslaughter in the NT

Under section 160 of the Criminal Code 1983, a person is guilty of manslaughter if they:

  • engage in conduct;
  • the conduct causes the death of another person; and
  • they are reckless or negligent as to causing death by the conduct.

Manslaughter occurs where a person dies as a result of an unlawful assault but where the offender did not intend to kill the victim. The victim’s death must have been a foreseeable consequence of the assault. In some cases, a person may be charged with murder but found guilty of manslaughter in the alternative as the prosecution in unable to prov they intended to cause the victim’s death.

Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.


The most commonly argued defence to a charge of murder is self-defence. In the NT, provocation can be relied on as a partial defence to murder (reducing the verdict to manslaughter). There are also other defence that can be relied on in some circumstances.


Self-defence can be advanced as full defence to a charge of murder or manslaughter.

A person is not guilty of an offence if they carried out an act defensively in response to a real or perceived threat to their life or to that of another person.

The defence of self-defence will only succeed if the actions of the accused were proportionate to the extent of the threat they believed they were facing.

If a person who is charged with murder relies on self-defence but their actions are found to have amounted to excessive self-defence (in other words, their defensive conduct was not proportionate to the threat), this will amount to a partial defence and they will be found guilty of manslaughter and not guilty of murder.


A person cannot be found guilty of an offence if they acted involuntarily. If a person carried out an act while they were not in control of their physical actions, they will be acquitted on the basis of automatism.

Mental impairment

A person has a full defence to any charge if they were suffering from a mental illness or mental disturbance at the time of the alleged offence, and as a consequence:

  • did not know the nature or quality of their conduct;
  • did not know that their conduct was wrong;
  • could not control their actions.


A person charged with murder in the NT has a partial defence if they acted in response to provocation. To establish this, the accused must show that they temporarily lost their self-control in response to provocation by the victim.

Provocation requires conduct by the victim that was sufficient to cause an ordinary person to lose their self-control to the point of forming an intention to cause death or serious harm.

The burden of proof in establishing provocation falls on the defence.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Taylor Rose.

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, and a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.