19 Oct 2022

Terrorism laws to be expanded, targeting imprisoned individuals like Christchurch shooter

3:01 pm on 19 October 2022
Kiri Allan

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Christchurch mosque shooter's designation as a terrorist entity would be less likely to be revoked or automatically expire under proposed new law changes.

Removal of the designation would allow people to legally provide him with support, including funding.

As it stands, the shooter's designation would automatically expire next September, and there is a risk he could seek to have it removed earlier on the grounds he is no longer involved in any way in the carrying out of terrorist acts.

In 2021, RNZ reported that he wanted to question his designation as a terrorist entity.

It is among several changes to counter-terrorism laws announced by Minister of Justice Kiritapu Allan this afternoon.

They include changes relating to imprisoned individuals:

  • Making it explicit that the terrorist designation scheme covers individuals in prison.
  • No application for revocation can be made on the grounds they are no longer involved in any way in the carrying out of terrorist acts.
  • Designation will shift from automatic expiry after three years, to a review by the prime minister every three years to determine whether it remains justified. In making this determination, the prime minister must consider relevant information provided by the designated individual.
  • While the person is imprisoned, expiry of the designation is paused and the designation remains in place other than the three-yearly review.

"The law change will impact any incarcerated person where a designation currently applies ... in New Zealand currently there is one person incarcerated that has a designation that is applicable," Allan said.

Other changes are also being made to control orders, which put restrictions on people who are considered a high risk of engaging in terrorism.

These restrictions can include regular report-ins with police, electronic monitoring, curfews, and more, specific to the individual.

Control order changes include:

  • Expanding eligibility to include people who have been convicted over objectionable publications promoting torture, extreme violence or cruelty. Current eligibility is limited to publications which promote terrorism.
  • Expanding eligibility too include people on home detention or community-based sentences. Current eligibility is limited to those facing prison terms.
  • Allowing judges more flexibility when setting control order restrictions
  • Making name suppression requirements more flexible so that the public can be reassured that a known terrorism risk is being appropriately managed
  • Providing more detail over restrictions requiring the person to reside and remain at a specific address under electronic monitoring

Allan said the changes would improve the effectiveness of the laws and limit high-risk individuals' ability to carry out a terrorist attack.

There were two "gates" or thresholds which must be met for control orders to be placed on someone, she said.

"The first is where you have been found to have objectionable material with a terrorism base - we're expanding that first gate to include objectionable material that is related to torture and other types of offending.

"The second gate must be proven in a High Court that the purpose of the distribution of those materials was for a terrorist purpose."

It was appropriate for such orders to have to meet such a high threshold, she said.

"They're civil orders that deprive you of your rights and liberties to engage freely, right? So we have to have a very high threshold when it comes to the application of these types of orders.

"We come from a free and democratic country so therefore the discretion that has to be exercised by the judiciary for those types of offending, there needs to be sufficient evidence that there really is that intent to have terrorist ramifications.

"I think - and we as a government think - that we've got the balance about right."

Allan said the original counter-terror laws were designed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and needed to evolve as the terrorism landscape changed.

"For the first time since the scheme was introduced we have a situation where a designated terrorist entity is imprisoned.

"Overseas we have seen examples of how imprisoned terrorists continue to attempt to influence and incite others from behind bars. We are seeking to further reduce any ability for designated entities to be glorified or to support others in carrying out acts of terrorism."

Cautious broad support from other parties

National's leader Christopher Luxon this afternoon said he hadn't seen the detail of the proposal yet.

A party spokesperson later confirmed the government had amended one clause from its proposal at National's request, and the party would be supporting the legislation at first reading.

ACT leader David Seymour said the government needed to be careful about designing law based on the actions of one person.

"This person does need to be controlled, but I suspect that in the future we're going to have to review how this law is extended to other people and other circumstances. There's an old saying that lawyers have: hard cases make bad law. It's a very hard case but it doesn't justify making a bad law."

"Obviously the Christchurch terrorist is an extremely bad person but we have to balance that against making laws for just one person and we're going to be looking at it really carefully."

Green Party leader James Shaw said the changes looked "reasonably minor and not terribly controversial", but MPs had not yet discussed it.

However, they also would want to look at it carefully.

"Constantly you still have to be looking at civil liberties, we're also really worried about the kind of unconscious bias and the tendency in our history here in Aotearoa New Zealand to target migrants, people of colour, Māori and Pasifika, and that is always foremost in our minds."