Christchurch gunman's sentencing 'particularly challenging' for judge - Law Society

11:32 am on 25 August 2020

Warning - This story discusses details of the 15 March Christchurch mosque shootings.

As the second day of the sentencing of the mosque gunman begins, the Law Society president says the sentencing will be a weighty decision for the judge.

Justice Cameron Mander.

Sentencing for Brenton Tarrant on 51 murder, 40 attempted murder and one terrorism charge.


Justice Cameron Mander is presiding over the sentencing of the mosque gunman in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo: Stuff / Pool

Convicted terrorist Brenton Tarrant is being sentenced in the High Court for the murder of 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on 15 March last year.

He has pleaded guilty to the 51 murder charges, 40 of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism.

Law Society president Tiana Epati told Morning Report Justice Mander will be assisted by independent counsel due to complex legal questions.

The gunman has chosen to represent himself at the hearing, however, Justice Mander has appointed two types of lawyer to assist.

An independent counsel will have no contact with Tarrant and will assist the court with the law as it relates to the facts. "In this case he will be assisting the judge with how to deal with sentencing for an unprecedented case which is legally novel."

Tiana Epati has been elected as the first ever New Zealand Law Society president of Pacific Island descent.

Tiana Epati. Photo: NZ Law Society

She said for the first time ever, a New Zealand court will consider life imprisonment without parole.

"We don't have a precedent for that. You've also got a situation where there were guilty pleas. In the ordinary course of sentencing there would be recognition for pleading guilty.

"If there wasn't recognition in our system for guilty pleas then no one would ever plead guilty. They would put everyone through the further ordeal of a trial so that's a challenge for the judge."

Overseas cases would have to be looked at but there weren't many to draw on, Epati said.

A standby counsel will help Tarrant to understand the sentencing process and make any submissions on sentencing.

The gunman can choose not to use the standby counsel.

Epati said the lawyers assisting the gunman should be commended, and not criticised, for their role in his sentencing.

"Past experience tells us that the public will often confuse the fact that lawyers take up these roles, which is their professional duty, with somebody who people feel very strongly about."

Lawyers helped ensure the process was lawful and fair and to preserve the integrity of the process for everyone.

"I appreciate this is a particularly challenging case for New Zealand but in particular for the victims and their families. This is to ensure that the process remains intact and is just and fair, it's important we have good lawyers on both sides."

Second day of hearing under way

Victims, families and support people have arrived at the High Court at Christchurch for the second day of the sentencing hearing.

Yesterday the details of the 15 March event were explained in the Crown's summary of facts, and then the court heard from 24 victims.

More victims will share their harrowing stories in court today.

There are 42 testimonies left.

Heading into court this morning, victims and their families declined to speak to media.

Muslim psychologists and extra support are available both in and outside court for people feeling distressed.

Media will be able to report the first details at the afternoon adjournment, at about 1pm.

Day one of hearing - Christchurch Law Courts

Some of the victims and their supporters wait to enter the High Court on the first day. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

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