In Australia, suicide itself is not illegal. However, there are many suicide-related crimes that can lead to imprisonment, such as aiding or abetting the suicide of others. Attempted suicide or surviving a suicide pact does not incur being found guilty of murder or manslaughter, as outlined in Section 31A and 31B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
Suicide rates in Australia have been on the rise since 2006, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; this is due to a combination of multiple factors, including cyberbullying. If you or anyone you know suffers from mental health issues, contact Lifeline Australia Crisis Support on 13-11-14.
The Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth) was passed by the Australian Parliament on 23 June 2021 and came into effect on 23 January 2022 with the intent of deterring online abuse and removing offensive content.
Cyberbullying may become a direct cause of aiding or abetting the suicide of others, holding a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment per section 31C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). This may include :
These may fall under using a carriage service to counsel or incite suicide which is an offence under section 474.29A(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), carrying a maximum penalty of a 1000 penalty unit fine, each penalty unit being $222.
Under the Online Safety Act, the eSafety Commissioner has powers to identify those who post harmful content anonymously or under pseudonyms and to compel platforms to remove such content under the threat of civil sanctions. As a result, individuals can be fined up to $111,000, and companies face fines of up to $555,000. If you or someone you know is accused of aiding and abetting suicide, seek legal advice here.
Assisting someone in committing suicide is a very serious criminal offence and is punishable by jail time. The maximum sentence is up to 10 years. Even when suicide hasn’t occurred, individuals may still face criminal charges. Pursuant to section 31C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), a person guilty of aiding or abetting suicide may face 10 years imprisonment. Counselling an individual may incur 5-year imprisonment or, if dealt with in the Local Court, a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment or $11,000 fine.
This is seen in the story of Graham Robert Morant, who was found guilty on charges of counselling suicide and aiding suicide, whereby he encouraged his wife, Jennifer Morant, to kill herself in 2014. Mr Morant did so intending to claim his wife’s $1.4 million in life insurance, whereby he would use those funds to assist in building a religious commune in the Gold Coast, which would serve as a haven from the biblical rapture.
According to Mr Morant, he justified his actions in a police interview, saying, “I had such a zest and zeal to live. She had such a zest and zeal to die,”. Over several months he convinced his wife that suicide had been a rightful act in God’s eye as the church’s financial benefit would be immense. It was also said that Mr Morant had convinced her she was too weak to survive the rapture. Multiple individuals, such as Ms Morant’s sister and best friend, claimed she was never suicidal. They suggested that she was rather scared by her husband’s pressure and that the only solution she felt to escape was to commit suicide.
Mr Morant pled not guilty to the charges and maintained that he held no role in his wife committing suicide. He was found guilty.
During Mr Morant’s sentence, Judge Peter Davis said Mr Morant “took advantage” of his wife’s vulnerability as a “sick and depressed woman”.
“You counselled your wife to kill herself because you wanted to get your hands on the $1.4 million,” Justice Davis said. Justice Davis also noted Mr Morant was a wealthy person and had incurred some debt, in which the $1.4 million would assist heavily in giving financial assistance to himself.
“Your general financial position was such that $1.4 million was a very significant sum, as it would be for most people,” he said, concluding this being the motivation for his counselling and aiding of suicide. Justice Davis continues, “You have not shown any remorse for the offences you have committed. “You did not plead guilty, and you did not cooperate with the administration of justice.”
Accordingly, Mr Morant was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for the counselling charge and 6 years for the aiding of suicide charge. This matter was a national precedent as Mr Morant was the first individual to be convicted of counselling someone to commit suicide.