In popular nightlife entertainment areas, such as Northbridge, violent attacks are becoming more prevalent, including the ‘one punch’ attacks or coward’s punches.  They are characterised by an individual serving a single blow to another, which causes death.  In most circumstances, the victim and perpetrator are not acquainted and the attack is unprovoked.  Due to the nature of the attacks, in many cases the State has been unable to prove manslaughter, which has caused significant public outcry.

Man in jailTo combat the increase in violence and some attackers escaping liability, the Western Australian Parliament amended the Criminal Code 1913 to include a provision specifically for ‘one punch’ perpetrators.  As of 2008, if a victim of a coward’s punch dies the accused is charged with Unlawful Assault Causing Death under s281 of the Criminal Code.  They are liable for up to 10 years in jail, to reflect the seriousness of the offence.  There has been recent media and Parliamentary interest in introducing a bill to increase the maximum penalty to 20 years imprisonment.  However, nothing has come to fruition as of yet.


To prove Unlawful Assault Causing Death, the State must establish that:

  1. The conduct was an assault, as defined in s222 of the WA Criminal Code;
  2. The conduct was unlawful; and
  3. The victim died as a direct or indirect consequence of the assault.

All of these elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, or the accused will be found not guilty.

In response, the accused may defend the charge by proving:

  1. Provocation;
  2. Duress;
  3. Identification (ie the victim has identified the wrong person as the attacker);
  4. The death was not caused by the assault;
  5. Accident; and
  6. Self defence.

Interestingly, this part of the Criminal Code is frequently used in cases of domestic violence.  The purpose for the amendment was solely to penalise those convicted of a ‘coward’s punch.  However, as the threshold is lower than for manslaughter, the charge is often applicable in cases of familial abuse.  Although not the intended outcome, it does fit the broader purpose of the legislation being to discourage violence and deter the public from committing such crimes.


Should you, or anyone you know, require any assistance in relation to charges of Unlawful Assault Occasioning Death, or any other criminal matters, contact Lawson Legal for your free initial consultation with one of our experienced criminal lawyers.