There's this hypothetical scenario (sometimes referred to as the trolley problem) that people refer to as an ethical conundrum. It goes something like:

There's a train heading down the track where it will run over and kill five people. You are at the lever that diverts the train onto a different track where it will only kill one person. Do you pull the lever and kill the one person in order to save the five?

Regardless of the ethics, what is the law? Could your actions in this scenario result in a man slaughter charge? Isn't trying to save someone essentially a 'motive' to take actions that would knowingly and unlawfully kill someone else? Suppose the scenario was in reverse and someone killed five people because they just wanted to save one person. Would there actually be a legal distinction between killing the one and killing the five? Does 'inaction' (not pulling the lever) automatically make you innocent and 'action' (pulling the lever) automatically make you guilty, regardless of how the bodies are weighted? Is knowing something about these people (like who deserves to live or die) essentially a motive for murder?


1 Answer 1


It’s probably legal

s18 of the Crimes Act says:


(a) Murder shall be taken to have been committed where the act of the accused, or thing by him or her omitted to be done, causing the death charged, was done or omitted with reckless indifference to human life, or with intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm upon some person, or done in an attempt to commit, or during or immediately after the commission, by the accused, or some accomplice with him or her, of a crime punishable by imprisonment for life or for 25 years.

(b) Every other punishable homicide shall be taken to be manslaughter.


(a) No act or omission which was not malicious, or for which the accused had lawful cause or excuse, shall be within this section.

(b) No punishment or forfeiture shall be incurred by any person who kills another by misfortune only.

So, at worse, it’s manslaughter because there wasn’t “reckless indifference to human life, or with intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm” or in relation to another crime.

s24 deals with the punishment for manslaughter and says:

Provided that, in any case, if the Judge is of the opinion that, having regard to all the circumstances, a nominal punishment would be sufficient, the Judge may discharge the jury from giving any verdict, and such discharge shall operate as an acquittal.

Which seems to be the most likely outcome.

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