Horror fans have been treated with a new entry in the Saw franchise with Saw X hitting cinemas earlier this month.

The series follows the twisted efforts of civil engineer John Kramer, also known as Jigsaw, as he “tests” unlucky individuals through the use of elaborate, gruesome traps.

But what crimes could Jigsaw actually be charged with if he unleashed his tyranny in New South Wales?

Here's a rundown of the criminal offences the infamous puppet master could face before the courts in our state.

The offence of murder in New South Wales

Despite frequent claims that he hasn't killed anyone, Jigsaw is very likely to be liable for murder whenever one of his elaborate tests results in death. The offence of murder will be established where a person:

  • Causes the death of another person.
  • Did so by way of a voluntary act or omission.
  • Did so with the intention to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm to the person, or with reckless indifference to human life.

Section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900 states that the offence of murder carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Jigsaw's traps will be the ‘substantial and significant' (Swan v The Queen [2020] HCA 11) cause of death for anyone who dies as a result. This is because Jigsaw sets up the traps to result in the violent death of an individual if they don't perform some task which tests their ‘will to live'.

Similarly, although an omission is sufficient for a murder charge, clearly strapping a person into a deadly trap is a ‘voluntary act' sufficient to meet this element for murder.

Whilst Jigsaw usually does not have a narrow ‘intention to kill' when setting up his traps, he clearly often has an intention to inflict grievous bodily harm. Grievous bodily harm means ‘very serious harm', and includes but is not limited to:

  • Any permanent or serious disfigurement,
  • The destruction of a foetus, other than by a medical procedure, and
  • Any grievous bodily disease.

In the first Saw film, Jigsaw chains two men to pipes in a bathroom requiring them to cut through their own limbs in order to escape. Similarly, in the more recent film, a woman has to remove her leg in order to collect her bone marrow to escape from a deadly trap. Clearly, both of these traps carry indicate an intention to cause ‘very serious harm' regardless of whether there was an intention to kill.

Jigsaw would also likely meet the threshold of ‘reckless indifference to human life' for many of his traps. This threshold would be met if a person did something, whilst being aware that death was a probable result.

Most of Jigsaws traps have the risk of death as a probable result unless the victim takes extraordinary measures. In the infamous Venus Flytrap test from Saw II, a man must use a scalpel to remove a key inserted behind his eye or else a spiked death mask manufactured like an Iron Maiden would snap into place. This trap clearly had death as a probable result.

Even when a person survives, Jigsaw would also likely be liable for the offence of attempted murder given the design of his traps.

The offence of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter in New South Wales

Another potential offence which could apply to Jigsaw is a variant of involuntary manslaughter, the offence of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter encompasses the killing of another person in circumstances where the mens rea (or mental fault element) for murder is not present.  

Unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter in NSW requires the accused to have performed a voluntary act causing death, in circumstances where: 

  • The act was unlawful; and
  • The act was dangerous: that is, a reasonable person in the position of the accused would have appreciated they exposed another person to a risk of serious injury.

Section 24 of the Crimes Act 1900 makes clear that involuntary manslaughter carries the maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.

Unlawful acts include all violations of the criminal law (but exclude breaches of motor traffic regulations, see R v Pullman (1991) 25 NSWLR 89). Clearly the kidnapping of individuals and placing them in elaborate traps would be sufficient to be an ‘unlawful' act.

Jigsaw's traps are also undeniably dangerous, carrying a risk of serious injury. In just one of many examples, in Saw IV, a woman is strapped to a ‘scalping seat' with her hair mangled into a series of gears which slowly turn and eventually result in the partial removal of her scalp. This clearly meets the element of what a reasonable person would appreciate exposes another person to a risk of serious injury.

The offence of setting traps in NSW

Even if Jigsaw was lucky enough to avoid a homicide charge, he could still be charged with more discrete offences under the Crimes Act 1900. Under section 49 of the Act, an offence applies if a person:

  • places or sets, or causes to be placed or set, any trap, device or thing (whether its nature be electronic, electric, mechanical, chemical or otherwise) capable of destroying human life or inflicting grievous bodily harm on any person;  or
  •  knowingly permits any such trap, device or thing to continue to be placed or set, with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

In the first Saw film, Jigsaw sets up a security trap in his hideout which fires a group of shotguns at anyone who hits a hidden trip wire. This trap is clearly designed to inflict grievous bodily harm on its intended targets and would amount to an offence.

Possible defences for tested individuals

Whilst there are unlikely to be any formal legal defences available to Jigsaw for his actions, there are interesting legal questions raised when it comes to people subjected to his ‘tests' who are pitted against another person.

In Saw I, victim-turned-accomplice of Jigsaw Amanda Young is forced to cut open an unconscious man in order to obtain a key to free herself from a ‘reverse bear trap' that would tear open her face. Despite killing another person, Amanda would likely have a formal legal defence available in the form of duress. Duress applies where:

  1. The defendant's will was overborne by a threat of death or grievous bodily harm,
  2. A person of ordinary firmness of mind in the same circumstances would have succumbed to this threat in such a way, and
  3. The defendant could not reasonably have otherwise rendered the threat ineffectual.

Similarly, in Saw IV a husband and wife are subject to a ‘spike trap' in which they are impaled together by a series of spikes. In order to survive, the wife is forced to remove the spikes from her husband resulting in his death in order for her to survive. Given the circumstances, the wife in this trap may be able to use the defence of necessity. In R v Loughnan [1981] VR 443 at [448], it was held that evidence of the following factors must be present to trigger the operation of the defence of necessity:

  1. The criminal act must have been done in order to avoid certain consequences which would have inflicted irreparable evil upon the defendant or others whom he or she was bound to protect;
  2. The defendant must have honestly believed on reasonable grounds that he or she, or someone he or she was bound to protect, was placed in a situation of imminent peril; and
  3. The conduct must not be a disproportionate response to the imminent peril.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.