Sentencing Trends No 7 — Sentencing Homicide: The effect of legislative changes on the penalty for murder

Donna Spears
Research Director
Ian MacKinnell
Senior Research


As part of a wider project on homicide offences in New South Wales in the 1990’s, the Judicial Commission has recently conducted a systematic audit of all Supreme Court homicide files for the period from January 1990 to December 1993. The information collected allowed the Commission to separate s 19 murder sentences, from s 19A sentences. Previous to this audit, all statistical information in relation to murder sentences had been collected solely on the basis of the short title of the charge, and the particular section pursuant to which the offence was prosecuted was not recorded. The results of this audit will ultimately be used as the basis of a much more detailed monograph on homicide sentencing in the 1990’s.

In order to understand the significance of this paper, it is useful to examine the history of the murder penalty in New South Wales. At common law murder was a felony punishable by death. In New South Wales, with the enactment of the Crimes Act 1900, the penalty for murder was prescribed as death pursuant to s 19 of that Act. The Governor was granted power to commute or mitigate such sentence pursuant to ss 459 and 460 of that Act.