The Defence of Suicide Pact
A suicide pact is an agreement between two or more people with the goal of death for all involved, whether or not each is to take his/her own life or be assisted by another, it may be done together or separately and will likely be close in time. A suicide pact is a partial defence to murder. If used successfully, the survivor of a suicide pact will be guilty of manslaughter as defined under section 6B of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). Manslaughter as a result of suicide pact carries a maximum of 10 years vs s5 of the Crimes Act 1958 that stipulates a maximum of 25 years for manslaughter not relating to a suicide pact.
The circumstances and the facts will have a bearing on the penalty.
During a murder trial, if defence show that an accused did cause or was directly involved in causing the death of another person by a wilful act or omission in the setting of a suicide pact then the jury might return a verdict of manslaughter per s6B of the Crimes Act 1958. To do so it must be proven that:
- There was an understanding between the accused and the deceased to seek the death of all parties to the agreement;
- The accused’s acts that caused the death of the deceased were committed in accord with a suicide pact; and
- At the time s/he caused the death, the accused had the intention of dying as per the agreement.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter by suicide pact in these circumstances is ten years’ imprisonment.
The Crimes Act also includes provisions for suicide pact in which a party to the pact is not directly involved in the killing but encourages suicidal behaviour. A person will be guilty of manslaughter by suicide pact under section 6B(2) of the Crimes Act where that person:
- incites any other person to commit suicide and that other person commits or attempts to commit suicide in consequence thereof; or
- aids or abets any other person in the commission of suicide or in an attempt to commit suicide; and
- commits either of the above offences as part of a suicide pact (‘being a party to a suicide pact’).
The maximum custodial sentence is five years in these circumstances.
The defence is not available to someone, who knowing another person is party to a suicide pact, kills them, but the accused was not a party to the agreement. There must be proof of the existence of an actual suicide pact, and the person who caused the other person’s death must have been a party to it. An honest and reasonable belief in the existence of a suicide pact is not a sufficient defence either (R v Iannazzone ). Nor can this defence be used where one stands by passively when another person commits suicide (H Ltd v J (2010)).