Relief for victims after accused mosque gunman drops bid to move trial

6:29 pm on 3 October 2019

The High Court in Christchurch was packed this morning where lengthy legal arguments were expected to be heard around why the Brenton Tarrant trial should be moved away from the city.

Journalists gather outside the Christchurch District Court ahead of alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant's appearance for his hearing via audio-visual link from a maximum-security prison in Auckland.

Journalists gathered outside the Christchurch District Court at an earlier appearance. Photo: AFP

About 80 mosque attack victims, some using crutches, as well as their supporters, packed the gallery.

The accused's lawyers had both flown down from Auckland and police sporting bushmaster rifles were stationed on both entrances to the court.

Then the news came, with Justice Mander announcing the application to move the trial had been withdrawn, with no explanation given.

Anybody doubting the importance of today's hearing and the desire of victims to see the trial held in Christchurch, only needed to hear the words of John Milne, whose 14-year-old son was shot dead in the Al Noor mosque.

He spoke to RNZ on his way in to today's hearing.

"I'm hoping that I won't have to travel away from here to attend. I'm hoping that it will be held here where it should be held for people to be able to record what has happened, the hurt, the suffering, the pain, it must be held here, it must be."

After just 10 minutes the hearing was over and Mr Milne and the other families had been granted their wish.

The accused gunman, who had pleaded not guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism relating to the 15 March attacks, had withdrawn his application to have his trial moved.

Afterwards one man whose young daughter was badly injured in the Al Noor mosque and who can't be named for legal reasons, said he was grateful for the outcome.

"Of course I am happy otherwise I will end up travelling every time [there's court] and that's going to be an extra cost for all the victims and that's not just my decision, that was all the victim's be in the courtroom as well."

The man was injured along with with his daughter - and more than six months on still had to use crutches.

He was determined to follow the trial all the way through to its conclusion.

"Physically I'm not prepared but mentally yes I am prepared because I want to chase that up, I want to see what's the law and how can the law protect us and protect New Zealand later on from any act can happen in the future."

While the reasons for today's decision not to proceed with a change of venue application remained a mystery, applying to have a trial moved was par for the course for any defence, according to law professor, Bill Hodge.

However whether the accused would have succeeded with such an application, based on the need for an untainted jury, was another matter altogether, he said.

"This was not simply a local crime affecting local people who knew everybody. It was not only a national matter but an international matter. And you really wouldn't want people serving on a jury who knew nothing of it. That would mean that they were so, well I don't want to be rude here, but so out of touch, that I would wonder about their capacity to make a decision on such matters."

Bill Hodge said the judge would also have considered the impact moving the trial would have on victims and their supporters.

"There's some default principal, to have the trial as close as possible to the scene of the crime so that justice can be seen to be done. And my view I think the community needs to feel like they have a stake in it and if it gets moved off to another island, people can say, well, it's remote, that it doesn't have anything to do with me."

The trial was due to start on 2 June next year, but the case will be back in court again on 12 December for a pre-trial callover.